Weather Wizards

I caught a cute short subject piece at the end of a recording the other day about meteorologists. Weather Wizards was produced by MGM in 1939 and dramatizes the plight of California farmers to protect their orange crops from a cold front.

The action was used to explain how important meteorologists are with their weather predicting skills. We are shown such scientists with their special tools tracking a cold front moving from Alaska and warning farmers in California of the coming doom.

What is most interesting about the short subject is how farmers in those days dealt with such crop-killing conditions. The orange groves have diesel fuel heaters placed at intervals of every two trees. The farm family we watch fills these mini chimneys with fuel and lights them, setting the substance to shoot flames from the four-foot tall spouts. In this story, the frost conditions, which farmers measure with a thermometer in an orange, last for several days.

The disaster is so severe that the whole California region has exhausted the diesel supply putting the crops at risk of frost damage. The smog created by the heaters is additionally consuming the area, which is blocking traffic and preventing trucks shipping the flammable material from out of state from getting to the farmers. What can the farmer do without diesel? He can chop up and ignite all the wood in sight: fences, debris, even his son chops his child-size wooden car to bits for the sake of the crop. After two or more days the cold conditions lift and the crop is safe.

What I found particularly striking is how horrible for the environment the approach of farmers was for keeping their plants warm. They essentially polluted the entire state for the sake of some oranges. What must also be considered, however, is that the crop was the lifeblood of those families. Today we have corporate crop plantations that could absorb a hit if their orange groves get frosted; not so in 1939. Perhaps the conclusion here is that MGM did not so much make an informational film about meteorology as much as a historic account of the operations of farmers.

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