Weather People

Largest hailstone: Coffeyville, Kansas, 17.5 inches, September 3, 1979.
Information Please Almanac, 1991 edition

Let us now explain lightning and thunder, and then whirlwinds, firewinds, and thunderbolts: for the cause of all of them must be assumed to be the same.

Aristotle, Meteorologica

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Bob Dylan, "Subterranean Homesick Blues"

Let's get one thing straight right from the start. There is no weather in Miami. Aside from the threat of a hurricane roaring through your jalousie windows someday, weather is one thing South Florida has not got. Even a weathercaster will tell you so. "What there is here is climate, not weather," says Todd Tongen, who delivers the weekday noontime report and a late-afternoon segment of "Neighborhood Weather" at Channel 10. Before coming to work in Miami, Tongen achieved some measure of fame in Little Rock, Arkansas (where, incidentally, they do have weather), after he used unconventional map pointers on two occasions: a python and an infant. South Florida employs this absence of weather as a selling point to tourists, a well-known fact that isn't lost on anyone who's ever made a long-distance call and had somebody pick up and say, "How's the weather down there?" As if they didn't know.

But the lack of actual weather hasn't deterred Miami television stations from devoting the customary three or four minutes to the subject during each news broadcast, a segment that usually divides the newscast neatly in half, separating the hard stuff from the human-interest puff. Given the number of news programs most local stations broadcast every day, a significant amount of time is being spent talking about an illusion. Should a hurricane venture toward our part of the world, of course, stations shift immediately into manic mode, sending a crew to interview Dr. Bob Sheets at the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, dispatching slicker-clad reporters to some Caribbean destination to be buffeted along dark, deserted streets while the rain lashes down in torrents.

No one should be surprised to learn that not all TV weathercasters are scholars. Any bozo with a barometer can assume the meteorologist's mantle and achieve some measure of fame. David Letterman once worked in the business, so did Ed McMahon. CBS This Morning's madcap weatherdude Mark McEwen broadcasts from air shows and baseball stadiums, but he doesn't prepare his own forecasts. Neither does Willard Scott, who actually was a Bozo (and a Ronald McDonald) before he ever wished any old ladies a happy 106th birthday on NBC's Today.

For every trained meteorologist who somehow ended up in front of a television camera, there are at least as many broadcasters who stumbled into the business. "My background is in news," says Channel 4's Bryan Norcross, a Melbourne native who earned a bachelor's degree in math from Florida State. "I was working as news director at the ABC affiliate in Louisville," he recalls, "which was a thankless and horrible job - having to be a business person."

At one point in Louisville, Norcross says, he had to hire someone to deliver the weather report. "I decided to hire a meteorologist. I looked and looked and I saw I was offering two-thirds more than I was making. I decided this was insane, killing myself working all day and all night and not enjoying it." So Norcross decided to return to FSU, where he tailored a master's program in meteorology. After graduating in 1980, he went to work in Atlanta as a "charter member" of Ted Turner's newly formed CNN. Several subsequent jobs finally led to Miami's ABC affiliate, Channel 10, in 1983, and this past year the 40-year-old Norcross jumped networks to NBC's Channel 4, where it's rumored he pulls down about $200,000 annually for describing the weather four times per day, Monday through Friday.

Like other television "personalities," weathercasters, especially those who work in prime time, are well paid. They aren't forthcoming about their incomes, but Tom Loffman, a weathercaster for KOVR television and radio in Sacramento, California, annually surveys forecasters' salaries as a service to the American Meteorological Society (AMS), for the benefit of anyone interested in entering the broadcasting field, and, he says, "to allow people who are being grossly underpaid to recognize it." According to Loffman's data, Miami's media market currently ranks sixteenth in the nation, which translates to a "fair" salary for a prime-time weathercaster of between $99,400 and $184,600. (Loffman limits his survey to weathercasters who have earned the AMS "Seal of Approval," a coveted endorsement that, with few exceptions, requires either a bachelor's degree in meteorology or a related field, or extensive work experience and science classes approved by the AMS. The AMS Seal doesn't guarantee a higher salary, though; some notable weather "personalities" receive high-six-figure salaries without it.)

In the five years he's been analyzing salaries, Loffman says, he's noticed several interesting phenomena. "Broadcasting is becoming a tighter industry economically, and salaries are the first to go," he observes. "They're doing what I call the half-and-half thing to weathercasters - when your contract comes up for renewal, they hire people half your age and pay them half your salary." Interestingly, but not unexpectedly, Loffman has found that the statistical curve of weathercasters' earnings, plotted over a range of media markets, tends to fit the shape of the population curve of those markets. "Meaning," he says, "your salary is based on how many people you reach."

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.

It would be interesting to see what Channel 4 sports commentator Hank Goldberg could do with the weather report. Between the two of them, Norcross was blessed with most of the hair, but Goldberg got all the panache.

WCIX-TV Channel 6
Maria Genero
Sunday - Thursday at 6:00, 6:30, and 11:00 p.m.

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

You haven't lived until you've watched Maria Genero's weathercast. In the tradition of the "spokesmodel" competition on Ed McMahon's Star Search, Genero is proof that people can be entertaining while having only the vaguest idea of what they're talking about. Enthusiasm is her strongest suit. In fact, besides her all-American-girl good looks, her perfect hair, and her impossibly pert smile, enthusiasm is her only suit.

Not only is Genero animated, she also knows how to animate, and she takes pride in her graphics. The computer-generated portion of a weathercaster's segment can be a reflection of that person's talent and ability; here in Miami, all the local English-language prime-timers paint their own. We're not talking about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, though; these graphic creations are more along the lines of an Elvis you'd buy in sofa-size black velvet.

Genero scores extra points for a syndicated shtick the station paid tens of thousands of dollars for: "Weatherschool." (Ron Yaros, the St. Louis meteorologist who came up with this brainstorm, must be hauling his royalties to the bank in a wheelbarrow.) In each segment, aired daily, Genero poses a seventh-grade-level multiple-choice question, such as, "The world's biggest snowfall from a single storm was recorded in Alaska, California, or Switzerland." The queries are tailored to a corresponding course supplied to 1000 South Florida classrooms. (For trivia addicts who don't watch Genero, here's the answer: California. In February 1959, Mt. Shasta was buried under 189 inches of snow during a week-long blizzard.)

Born 27 years ago in Niagara Falls, New York, Genero arrived in Miami in 1989 after a two-and-a-half-year stint at WIVB-TV in Buffalo (she worked as a DJ before that), armed with a seal of approval not from the prestigious American Meteorological Society but from something called the National Weather Association, which was bestowed after the completion of a course administered by the University of Mississippi, and an exam. But that, along with her natural gift of gaiety, is obviously sufficient qualification to forecast the nonweather in this town and do it a whole lot more entertainingly than Channel 6's other weatherman, Cliff Morrison - or anybody else in this town, for that matter.

And forecast Genero does. "Look at the humidity! It is so low!" she croons, her Valley Girl accent belying her fashionable-schoolmarm wardrobe, rendering lovable - and enthusiastic - pronunciations such as "tumpacher!" "prusher!" and "duffinutly!" And with the "Someone to watch over you" billboard campaign, Channel 6 has found the perfect slogan to use in plugging their vivacious star forecaster - sure she's pretty, but she's motherly, too.

"I think the weather is mostly about presenting," comments Genero, waxing pensive. "TV weather went from being done by `bunnies' to clowns to meteorologists, and the meteorologists are too dry, they're not any good at presenting the weather." Let's face it, your basic TV viewer is about as acquisitive as a walnut, so there's no reason to cloud the weather report with pesky facts.

WSVN-TV Channel 7
Bob Soper
Monday - Friday from 5:00 to 7:00 and from 10:00 to 11:00 p.m.

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

Not even Captain Kangaroo could be more genial than Bob Soper, a twelve-year Miami weather veteran. When asked to participate in this meteorological round-up, though, Soper politely declined, citing Channel 7's stationwide ban on answering questions posed by New Times. "They told me you might call and that I couldn't talk to you," he says good-naturedly but firmly. "I'm sorry I can't talk to you. I'd like to help you, but I'm afraid I'd be in deep doo-doo if I talked to you."

Soper, who has been stamped with the AMS Seal of Approval, is the ballast that keeps the Channel 7 newscast from actually lifting off and flying away with hysteria. He's sort of a cross between a friendly uncle and a used-car salesman, and what he lacks in fashion sense (argyle sweaters? Hire a consultant, Bob!) he more than makes up for in incessant plugs for the charitable organizations to which he contributes. Including his own, for crying out loud, Soper's Superkids, which he formed with his wife in order to take disadvantaged kids to events they couldn't otherwise afford to attend.

His tendency to stumble over multisyllable words and to wander out of the camera's field of vision while describing the action on the satellite photograph is perhaps due to the bizarre antics that go on all around him. Like a conservative banker who wears loud ties, Soper's graphics are a splash of spiff; he tends to make conspicuous use of greens and blues, and he has a penchant for little clouds that appear to pour down rain.

WPLG-TV Channel 10
Don Noe
Monday - Friday at 5:00, 6:00, and 11:00 p.m.

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

He can't possibly approach the level of a Maria Genero, but despite an annoying habit of twiddling his thumbs while on camera, Don Noe, who's worked at Channel 10 for more than eleven years, really does attempt to forecast the nonweather with a fair dose of pep. Noe, who carries the main weather load at Channel 10 (Todd Tongen and Walt Cronise pitch in during the off-peak hours), doesn't render his graphics with Bryan Norcross's flair, but his efforts are subtly ambitious. Of special note is a doofus boater who rows across the screen (sometimes with a water-skier in tow), and even more impressively, a U.S. map-on-a-spit that rotates to reveal the next topic.

Born and reared in Wisconsin, the 39-year-old, AMS-approved Noe might be the definitive weather nerd, having always wanted to be a weathercaster. His cornball press bio states that Noe "fell in love with weather at the age of ten while watching a fierce thunderstorm tear up a large elm tree in his back yard." Noe supposedly went to the library the next day to check out all the weather books he could find and spent his allowance on a thermometer. Asked if the story is true, Noe says simply, "Yup." About his reasons for getting into the television business, he's a bit more forthcoming: "I was interested in radio for a while, but radio didn't pay that well."

Noe is the first to admit that fashion is not foremost on his mind. His wife picks out his clothes for him, he says - at Saks and Bloomies - which is curious, given that his wardrobe has all the color and flair of a Sears catalogue.

Despite his claim that "my taste is mostly in my mouth, I guess," Noe would stand to gain points by shopping for himself and by taking a risk or two every now and then. Once cited by People magazine as a "crazy" weathercaster, Noe insists he's put his wild days behind him. "Once in Green Bay, I stood on my head," he says. "On a Friday, I said, `It's gonna be a great weekend, and if it isn't, I'll come in Monday and do the forecast standing on my head.' Well, it poured. And on Monday I did the weather standing on my head, with my tie flopping down in my face. I've also dressed up as a groundhog and as Paul Revere. Now I'm approaching 40, though, and I've got a wife and two kids, so I guess I don't do those things any more."

More's the pity.

WLTV-TV Channel 23
Javier Romero
Monday - Friday at 5:30, 6:00, and 10:30 p.m.

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

Aside from the fact that he's Channel 23's main meteorological man (Eduardo Lujan pinch hits) one remarkable feature puts the dimple-faced Javier Romero on the weather map, figuratively speaking: His delivery would qualify him for a career as an auctioneer.

The rapidity and high pitch of Romero's voice make it sound as though someone has squeezed him very hard in a very uncomfortable place, causing him to get his meteorological message across with a speed unmatched by any of the local competition. If you never thought it was humanly possible to speak both swiftly and suavely, listening to Romero will make you think again. Such unbelievable quickness inspired a time check: does he have the ability to present his pronostico more quickly, saving time for his news colleagues, or does he pack a load of additional verbiage into the three or four minutes weather reporters are commonly allotted?

The stopwatch doesn't lie; Romero's weathercast is no longer or shorter than anybody else's. Which presents a bit of a mystery. He doesn't seem to be cramming in more information, yet the raw word count is astronomical. What gives? The 26-year-old Romero attributes the velocity of his verbiage to the fact that he also works in radio - he does the morning drive-time show at WXDJ-FM 95.7 (Radio Ritmo). "I really never thought I talked that fast," says the Cuban-born and Miami-reared reporter. "I guess working in radio sort of gives me the speeding edge." Right.

Perhaps because they have absolutely nothing to do with the weather, Romero's viewer mail-in photo features, "Esquiador de la Semana," and "Pescador de la Semana," are a rare treat. There's nothing quite like breaking up today's lows and tomorrow's highs with a snapshot of some clumzoid endeavoring to schuss down the slopes of Aspen or holding up a large-mouthed bass.

WSCV-TV
Channel 51
Angel Martin
Monday - Friday at 6:00 and 11:00 p.m.

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

Angel Martin appears each evening in front of a picturesque "window" - complete with blinds and a patch of greenery behind it - before making his way over to where his maps are projected. Looking like a cross between ESPN's Chris Berman and actor Danny DeVito, the 38-year-old Martin is by far the most dapper dresser among this town's weathercasters, his sartorial tastes running decidedly toward the realm of the lounge lizard. He's the only one who dares to wear black.

If for nothing else, the six-year Channel 51 weather veteran's nightly report is notable because of the angle at which the satellite map is tilted, with Cuba a more prominent presence than on any other station in town. The maps take a tumble, however, due to the preferred color scheme - overcooked-salmon pink for land, combined with the standard gray cloud overlay - a satellite photo that's virtually indistinguishable from a Jackson Pollack painting. (To make matters worse, a wartime attempt at depicting the meteorological state of affairs in el Golfo Persico resulted in the unfortunate transposition of letters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to spell out Er Raid.) Blame it on the graphics department: like Javier Romero at Channel 23, Martin says they're the ones who supply the computer manipulations.

Martin and his back-up, Lazaro
Dominguez, don't do much forecasting on their own (neither does Channel 23's Romero); for the most part they rely on what the National Weather Service predicts. "I go to bed every night with my wife and baby and the Weather Channel," Martin confesses, adding somewhat cryptically that forecasting the weather is "common sense more than anything else, like a domino game.

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