He conducted fieldwork, taking measurements and observing conditions firsthand, and was widely quoted whenever a reporter needed someone to verify a weather record or trend.
“I never knew him to be wrong once,” said Nick Gregory, the chief meteorologist for Fox5 NY, whom Mr. Fybish favored to the extent that he respected any television forecaster.
Unlike groundhogs, which make their predictions in the shadows, Mr. Fybish was not bashful about brandishing his claim to fame.
He frequently and fervidly reached out to journalists, statisticians and fellow buffs and peppered professional forecasters with his findings. He might call to reveal a weather trend he had observed, to rectify the slightest inaccuracy in a news account, or to fill the holes in what he would dismiss as an “underinformative” report.
He once prompted the national weather service to correct a typographical error that had grossly underestimated the snowfall during the winter of 1874-75. On another occasion, he alerted The New York Times that it had erred in its characterization of the 51.1 inches of snow that fell on New York in the winter of 1966-67. It was the most snow in a single winter there from 1962 to 1992, he said; it was not an all-time record.
Most of the details he dispensed, dry or otherwise, were gleaned from his encyclopedic memory. He retrieved even more arcane statistics from almanacs and meticulously kept records that cluttered his apartment, some taped to the walls, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in a building aptly named Westwind.
Stephen Stewart Fybish was born in New York City on Sept. 20, 1936, to the former Marion Ketzis, a secretary, and Nathan Fybish, an immigrant from Romania who had studied osteopathy and later became a psychiatrist.
“My mother remembers it was a nice day when I was born,” Mr. Fybish said. “And I checked. She had no recollection of a storm two days before.”
He grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, and graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in 1957 and later a master’s from Teachers College at Columbia.
In between, he taught and studied at several graduate schools, including at Cornell, where a record cold in upstate New York piqued his curiosity about climate.
“He told me that it was there that he first experienced a winter temperature below zero,” Ira Fybish said.
Mr. Fybish was married to the former Peggy Romero, an actress, who died in 1999. In addition to his brother, his survivors include two stepchildren from that marriage, Nora Elgar-Verdon and Emily Prager.
Most people just talk about the weather. Mr. Fybish did something about it. To place temperature and precipitation trends and records in perspective, he began keeping a journal to occupy himself during the day when he taught at night.
“Things, I guess, sort of crystallized — as far as my being a real weather expert — in the winter of 1976-77, when we had an exceptionally cold stretch of months from September on,” he said in an interview that was broadcast on NPR’s “Morning Edition” in 2001. “Before I knew it I was trying to work up patterns of recurring phases of New York weather in particular, or U.S. weather and global weather beyond that.”
Winter was his favorite season. He liked to taste the snow, “since that’s one of the purer forms of water that we’re likely to encounter here in the Big Apple,” he said.
But his broader interest in the weather took a more philosophical bent. “Weather, for me,” he said, “is the boundary between natural science and human history.”
Continue reading the main story