Weather People

Anyone who's flipped channels knows that Miami weathercasters are not above resorting to gimmicks. (Maybe that's a factor of there being no weather; maybe it's because they have to do something to fill the time.) Channel 4's Norcross and Channel 10's Tongen continue dreaming up new "neighborhoods" from which to recite their five-day outlook. Channel 10 also has provided the ultimate weather reporter, the Tower Cam, which beams into our living rooms a picture of the skyline, the bay, the horizon, showing us the weather, as if it were something we could see and touch.

But if Miami weather is an illusion, so is the computer-graphic assemblage of maps and numbers. In a windowless studio illuminated by hot, bright klieg lights, Tongen, Norcross, and the others actually do their rain dance in front of a blank wall, which is covered with fabric or paint, typically Day-glo green. The weather map or the graphic image in the background is broadcast separately; using a Chroma-Key system, the camera aimed at the weathercaster is "keyed" to pick up every color except that particular shade of green. The camera ignores the green, and voila!: superimposed over the map is an image of the weathercaster, who's peering into a studio monitor in order to see where on the "map" to point. If they do it well, it appears as though they're looking at the map along with the viewers; if they do it badly, it's a low-rent pantomime.

But that's show, not substance, and even the clumsiest pratfalls could be overlooked if weathercasters were more reporter than performer. A truly great weather reporter is an existentialist, a person able to recognize, appreciate, and elucidate the indifference of the natural forces that govern climatological change - an absurdity heightened in Miami by the utter lack of any such change to report. Unfortunately for us, the prime-time weathercasters employed locally exhibit a decided lack of philosophical acuity, and not much of what you might call personal magnetism, either. Given that they've got nothing to talk about, you might expect they'd at least be willing to admit it. But they don't. They go about their "forecasting" as if there were actually something substantial to predict, and even then it's amazing that they seem to be wrong half the time.

Weathercasters, though, can be entertaining to watch as they bumble along in their own peculiar way. If you've got to sit through the weather report in a town without weather, you might as well search for something redeeming. We live in the land of highs in the 80s, lows in the 60s, mostly sunny (on a good day it might be partly cloudy for a change, scattered showers), our bay waters possessed of their perpetual moderate chop. There must be some lesson to be learned from following this lack of weather, but it's no thunderhead of a thing, no gale-force profundity. Most likely it's something elusive, something metaphorical: the maps are a way of seeing ourselves, a reassuring confirmation that amid the turbulence of the day's news events, we are still here, securely planted in front of the tube as the clouds move across the satellite loop, as the atmosphere sweeps past, tens of thousands of feet above our heads.

On the next several pages, each local prime-time weathercaster is rated according to his or her performance in six weather-reporting categories: STUDIO, MAPS, SPECIAL EFFECTS, DELIVERY, FASHION SENSE, and HAIR.

The ratings, scientifically calculated to be accurate to within .75 inches of mercury, are listed best to worst, on a four-unit scale:

SUNNY
PARTLY CLOUDY
CLOUDY
RAINY

WTVJ-TV
Channel 4
Bryan Norcross
Monday - Friday at 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, and 11:00 p.m.

STUDIO: Sunny
MAPS: Partly Cloudy
SPECIAL EFFECTS: Sunny
DELIVERY: Cloudy
FASHION SENSE: Rainy
HAIR: Sunny

Unlike his peers, Norcross seems to prefer not to sit at the news desk alongside the rest of the crew before trotting off to attend to his maps. Instead the anchors introduce him, and through the magic of Chroma-Key technology, he can appear in his own little world, projected on a large "screen" behind the news desk.

With seven and a half years of experience, Norcross has had ample time to ponder the ramifications of doing the daily weather report. In watching a news program, the typical viewer has no idea what he's going to see, says Norcross. "People usually watch the news in a passive manner," he explains, "unless there's something going on that they tune in to find out about, like the war." But the daily forecast is different. According to Norcross, "They watch the weather more actively than the rest of the news." In other words, they flip to Channel 4 to watch him - or weather colleagues Bob Weaver, Brien Allen, or Barbara Conrad - with a purpose in mind. There's something specific they want to find out. "And I think there's a comfort level for people," Norcross says, "knowing what they're going to deal with tomorrow." Not to mention the fact that it gives them something to chat about when the elevator gets stuck between floors.

So you've got to give the guy credit for having a brain. But Norcross's forecast doesn't rate as entertainment. Although he's acceptably bright and predictably cheery, he seems to have come into this world with the personality of a shower curtain. Nine times out of ten, he'll skip the small talk and go directly to his precious satellite picture. He's AMS blessed and he devotes a great deal of his time to creating his own special effects, including an illusory bayside balcony from which he delivers his forecast. If there's a bad blot to his graphic wizardry, it's his penchant, when he brings up the U.S. map, to walk all over the nation of Mexico.

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