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Ben Abell: 1932-2019

by Jeanette Grider on 02/21/2019
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Jeanette Grider
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Ben Abell, a Saint Louis University alumnus, professor of meteorology and respected broadcast meteorologist, died Feb. 11. He was 86.

Ben Abell

St. Louis Public Radio station KWMU 90.7 provided a broadcast setup in meteorologist Ben Abell’s SLU office where he did 16 forecasts a day. SLU Photo.

Abell, a native of Washington, D.C., first became a member of the SLU community as a student, earning his undergraduate degree in professional meteorology in 1960 and his master’s in meteorology and statistics in 1965.

In 1962, Abell joined the SLU faculty as an instructor in aeronautical administration and meteorology at Parks College (now Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology) moving on to full professorship until his retirement from the University in 2011.

Charles Graves, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said Abell was the meteorologist that most wish they could be.

“Ben had an amazing and diverse career in meteorology,” Graves said. “He personally experienced the evolution of meteorology that we now read about in textbooks. His dedication to meteorology was matched by his concern for students.”

KSDK Ch. 5 meteorologist Chester Lampkin, who graduated from SLU in 2005 and took several classes with Abell, has fond memories and deep respect for his former professor.

“For many in St. Louis, Ben Abell was known as a radio meteorologist,” Lampkin said. “But for those of us in the meteorology community he was known as a man of great knowledge and experience. He was kind, helpful, smart and always had a great story to tell. To me he’s a local legend.”

In addition to his academic leadership helping build the next generation of meteorologists, Abell’s voice was well known on area radio stations.

In 1972, Abell joined the St. Louis public radio station, KWMU-FM 90.7, just weeks after it hit the airwaves. Heard 16 times a day, five days a week, Abell’s reliable forecasts often were peppered with his trademark, “I can’t rule out …”

Ben Abell with charts

Before computer models and Doppler radar, weather charts were a source of weather research data for meteorology professor Ben Abell. SLU Photo.

Throughout his career with KWMU, Abell served in a voluntary capacity. The station outfitted his SLU office in Macelwane Hall so he could record his forecasts on campus, arriving at 4:45 a.m. -- or sometimes even earlier.

Long-time KWMU executive producer and colleague Mary Edwards shared her thoughts on the man she called humble, a good sport and one of the nicest human beings you could ever meet.

“Listeners could count on him being accurate without the hype that sent people flocking to the grocery store for milk, eggs and bread.”

“Even though he did forecasts as a volunteer, Ben was extremely dedicated and conscientious,” Edwards added. “In the days long before cell phones, on the rare occasion he couldn’t be in his office at the appointed time, he would go to great lengths to get to a phone from wherever he was to give us the forecast on time.”

In a 2007 story in SLU’s Grand Connections publication, as he was preparing to retire from the airwaves, Abell said the people he worked with made it all worth it.

“I feel that I got more from the experience than I gave,” Abell said. “I got to work with young, aggressive, professional people who were committed to their work and enjoyed what they were doing.”

Veteran St. Louis meteorologist and SLU adjunct professor Mike Roberts said Ben Abell’s approach was an example to so many.

“Ben communicated more in 20 seconds than the rest of us did in three minutes,” Roberts said. “His radio forecasts were brief, to the point, and most importantly, memorable – a vital element in radio forecasting.”

Roberts believes that Abell’s legacy is also that of a public servant saying that his information helped save lives.

Ben Abell and Mike Roberts

Former KSDK Ch. 5 meteorologist and SLU adjunct professor Mike Roberts reconnected in 2017 at an eclipse lecture where Abell resided. Photo courtesy of Mike Roberts.

Among his many notable accomplishments, Abell was inducted into the St. Louis Radio Hall of Fame in 2006. He was also recognized for his contributions to the St. Louis area in 2002 when Mayor Clarence Harmon declared Feb. 2 "Ben Abell Day."

In addition to KWMU, Abell also provided forecasts on several area stations, including KMOX-AM 1120 and then classical station KFUO-FM. In 1973, he also began doing free weather forecasts for the Radio Information Services for the Blind.

See an archived interview with Abell on KETC-TV Ch. 9's Living St. Louis below. 

Abell is survived by daughters Olga Hunt and Kathleen Bradley; sons Benjamin and Brian; and 16 grandchildren.

Visitation will be held from 4-8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Kutis Funeral Home, 10151 Gravois Road, in Affton, Mo.  A funeral service will be held at Kutis at 1 p.m. Friday, March 1, which would have been his 87th birthday.

Abell, who served as an Army intelligence officer during the Korean War, will be buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.