Today’s the second day of winter. You know what happens in winter? It gets cold and often snows. What?????? This is news to you? For the past 48 hours weather people in at least three time zones have whipped up a frenzy about a coming winter storm. I know, they’re trying to give fair warning, keep people safe and mostly, boost ratings and web traffic.
You ever wonder what weather people do in places where none of the crap happens? Where there’s nothing to hype but another great day? It just so happens I was one of them very early in my career. My first TV job was as the weekend weather guy on KGUN in Tucson, Arizona while I was going to grad school at the University of Arizona to earn my Masters in Journalism.
I just happen to have one to show you.
You should know I had no weather training whatsoever. To get the job I went to the library, pulled some books on meteorology, learned a few words I could toss in to make it look good and learned how to decipher a weather map.
I showed up at the station for my audition and was told to just use the map the real weather guy just used on the air. Total prep time with that map, 10 minutes. No scripts. Like other weekend weather guys in that market, I was hired because I was good at spewing extemporaneous bullshit from my experience as a radio DJ.
Now Tucson has three basic weather features: hot, really hot, quick downpours in June and July called chubascos, or typhoons. The rain would last for about 20-30 minutes, flood the streets, then drain out into the desert. After that Tucson weather would revert to either hot or really hot.
That’s not much to fill a 3.5 minute weather cast. So what to do? Turns out there are a lot of snowbirds or permanent transplants from the midwest and the east coast. Many of them spent a lot of money to lead that lifestyle. So I was told to spend 3 of those 3.5 minutes recapping how crappy the weather was in those areas to make the transplants feel good about their moves, and also to give them fodder for calling their relatives and friends back home to rub it in. “Hey Izzie! I hear it sucks in Chicago…like 12 degrees, snow and bastard winds! It’s 103 for the 12th day in a row out here in Tucson…in December. I’m not even wearing pants! Take care, sucka!”
The final 30 seconds of the weathercast was the forecast for Tucson. “Yup, hot again. It might even be hotter this weekend.” One time, though, something unexpected happened. A rogue rainstorm cropped up on a Sunday. Came out of nowhere so it wasn’t in my “expert” forecast.
The next day while at the supermarket with my wife, some guy recognized me and started yelling, “you screwed up my family picnic on Sunday ya bastard!” The folks in the checkout line stared at me and one murmured, “ya eff’d up mine too.” Figures, the one time there was actual weather we missed it.
Weather was never gonna be my thing anyway. It was just a foot in the door on my way to my real goal of being a reporter. But my short experience ad libbing my ass off in front of a weather map followed me years later after I was at CNN for a few years.
I was working at the CNN headquarters on election night 1986 as a reporter when around midnight the weathercaster for the morning show called in that her mother had just died and of course, needed to take some time off. The backup weather guy didn’t answer his page, which caused some panic. Then one guy remembered my dark past and told the boss, “Hey Ed did weather in Tucson.”
The boss came to me and asked if I wouldn’t mind giving it a shot. Why not. We had an awesome weather producer name Ross Hayes and he got me through it. Made the maps, briefed me on top weather features and I had enough to wing it through a half dozen weather segments. I guess I did ok because the boss asked me if I wanted to be a permanent weather fill-in guy. Eh, by that time I was a full-time network correspondent but I didn’t say no. I was never asked the to the weather again.
I have to say, I did enjoy doing the weather because it was a chance to show a little personality, ad lib and not have to cover a shooting or plane crash or city council meeting.
I did learn, however, back in my KGUN days, people don’t always listen carefully. After popping onto the set to report a tornado warning my phone rang. At the other end of the line was a very irate senior citizen with a disturbing question and accusation. “What’s that you just said about President Carter dying?” I politely explained I said nothing of the sort, but rather I reported a tornado warning. “Ha!” she snorted. “Hiding the truth! Can’t trust you weather people!”