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Need to know the time or temp? Ohioans are still dialing up the weather

man at a desk with weather paraphernalia holding a phone to record a forecast
Keith Allen
Keith Allen faithfully forecasts and records the weather daily in eight Ohio cities.

There used to be a bunch of weather phone numbers all across the country. A lot ended in "1010" or "1212," and they were operated by businesses, banks, companies, even the National Weather Service.

"The weather lines have actually been around for generations," explains Lauren Bruce with ClearlyIP. She's worked with weather line services for 15 years.

"They were started back in the 'Ma Bell' days for people to be able to call at any point in time if they needed to know, not only just the time, but also what the weather was going to be every day."

Bruce says people used them a ton, especially in the 1990s. Once the internet and mobile phones came along, the demand started to wane. However, Bruce says they still got 10 million calls last year nationwide, and the service is especially popular here in Ohio, where ClearlyIP operates lines in 8 cities.

Just looking at a snapshot of one day from January of last year, there were some 2,000 calls to the line in Dayton, almost that many in Cincinnati and Columbus and twice that amount — 4,000 — in Cleveland.

bar graph of calls made to phone lines in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton on Jan. 25 2017 -2024.
ClearlyIP says people are still making regular use of the weather lines.

Bruce says they surveyed callers a few years ago, and while many were older, a substantial number of callers were in the 30 to 45 year old range. Some call out of nostalgia, she says. The National Weather Service in Wilmington says it gets a lot of calls from the Amish community.

Bruce says a woman in Cleveland told them she called because she couldn't read the clock from her chair in a nursing home and she was hungry.

"She said if she didn't tell the nurses that she wanted a snack at snack time, she wouldn't get a snack. So, she would call kind of obsessively just to find out the time so she knew when to ask for a snack," laughs Bruce.

The ClearlyIP weather lines are so popular in Ohio, the company employs a real person — not an AI-generated voice — to record the forecasts.

The man behind the voice

His name is Keith Allen. He's 82, and lives in suburban Washington, D.C. He does forecasts for eight cities in Ohio and more than a dozen more in other states.

Allen gets the raw data from NOAA, the government agency that oversees the National Weather Service, and then interprets it for each city. That means he's had to learn all the weather quirks and peculiarities in cities across Ohio.

He even sometimes uses online traffic cameras to see how things are looking in a particular city.

"Before you had the traffic cameras, if I was uncertain about the weather in a certain city, what I would do is I would just call a number at random in those cities. And [when someone answered], I would tell them, 'Well, I'm sorry, I've got the wrong number. By the way, how's the weather there in Cincinnati?' "

Allen doesn't make a lot doing the weather forecasts — and he's quick to point out he's not a meteorologist — but he's dedicated to providing the service, even updating the forecasts several times a day in as many as 20 cities nationwide.

"The product that I put out, I'm very proud of, and I want it to be accurate because people plan their lives, hearing my voice. They plan their days on what to wear. If the weather is inclement, if there's dangerous weather — ice, snow — people are going to be more cautious."

He’s been voicing the weather for decades and has no plans to stop anytime soon. For him, it’s a calling.