Freese-Notis: The little weather forecasting company that grew

freesenotis

In the early 1970s – before the public had access to the Internet, before cell phones, before personal computers, even – two fresh-out-of-grad-school ISU meteorology alumni decided to start a company creating customized weather forecasts for businesses.

“We were looking for jobs, and nobody was hiring,” remembers Charlie Notis (L)(MS ’72 meteorology). “It was the early 1970s, and we were in a recession. The National Weather Service was not hiring. People said to us, ‘Why don’t you start your own company?’ and we said, ‘Well, maybe that’s what we should do.’”

Notis and his friend Harvey Freese (L)(’71 meteorology, MS ’73) started a business and called it Freese-Notis Weather – a combination of their last names that serendipitously created a natural name for a weather-forecasting business.

The two started out with one client – Iowa Power and Light – for whom they created customized weather forecasts. Within a year, they signed on more customers, and the company started to grow, providing forecasts for radio stations, the city of Des Moines Public Works Department, other highway departments, and construction companies.

By the late 1970s, the client base had grown to nearly 75. During the 1980s, Freese-Notis began working with agriculture commodity clients; in the 1990s they expanded to provide forecasts for the energy industry.

At first, it was just the two of them: 24 hours on, 24 hours off. Forecasts were provided to customers by phone, with maps sent by modem. Technology was in its infancy back then, and Notis and Freese expanded their reach as technology allowed.

“There was a T1 line with high-speed Internet along Grand Avenue [in Des Moines],” Freese says.

“We were pioneers,” Notis adds.

“Our first computer was an Apple II,” Freese says. “Then we had an ISU engineer build a computer for us.”

Over the years, as the technology improved and the company expanded, Notis and Freese stuck to their original mission: to provide customized forecasts for their subscribers.

“The National Weather Service provides information,” Notis says. “But a construction company wants to know exactly when it will freeze – will it be 32 degrees tonight or 28 degrees? They want to know exactly when it will start raining, so they can plan their day accordingly. Commodity companies are looking for changes in the weather pattern, because if it rains in the growing season, after a lengthy dry and hot period, soybean and corn prices will go kaboom.”

It takes a mix of art, science, passion, and a good memory for details to create accurate weather forecasts, they say.

“You have to have a mind that can remember certain weather forecasts,” Notis says. “What happened eight years ago? No two weather systems are exactly alike.” Freese adds: “You have to draw on your skills and do lots of research…that’s the secret sauce.”

After more than 30 years in the business, Notis says he got tired of getting up at 2 a.m. to go to work, and he recently retired from the company. Freese is “still having fun,” but he’s cutting back on his hours.

“I still find it fascinating,” he says.

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