RayHanania

Weather is tricky, but forecasters aren’t

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By Ray Hanania

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Meteorology, or the science of guessing the weather on television, has been an entertaining segment since humans began watching television.

Often, the weather reports were the least frightening to handle, compared to the growing domination of crime news that has filled up the expanding TV news broadcasts.

There’s so much violence in the world that you could produce a 24-hour news report just on crime. Oh, wait, they do have one, called Forensic Files, which I watch to learn the latest strategies to avoid getting captured if I ever commit a major crime.

Last week, after watching and enjoying Tom Skilling’s weather reports for the past 46 years, Skilling retired. Skilling had such a perfect personality, he could calm you down even during a tornado.RayHanania 1

Even though weather forecasts are like throwing a dice and the odds of the predictions are risky, Skilling did a great job of being one of the least biased and most trusted people on television.

I knew when he said something, he was being objective. Fair. Honest. He had no agenda to push, unlike many of the other personalities in the TV, radio and print media who claim to be news reporters but spend a lot of time spinning opinion without labeling it or calling it opinion.

I remember all of the weathermen (and women) more than the rest because they were always so honest, even in their inaccuracies. Predicting the weather is a risky profession, much like a fortune teller reading your future from a glass globe.

One of my first weathermen (before they taught us to call them meteorologists) I can recall was P.J. Hoff (Piercy J. Hoffstrom), who came to CBS-TV in the 1950s from Oklahoma. A former comedian and humorist, Hoff had a great style that was fun to watch.

Part of Hoff’s success was that he worked on the same news broadcast as Fahey Flynn, one of Chicago television’s most trusted newsmen.

Hoff also drew his own maps. I remember as a kid writing to the station asking Hoff for one of his maps. He sent it to me, autographed. I cherished it.

There are a lot of good meteorologists, and the key to their personalities is conveying trust, even above the weather reality. If they said the weather would be good, you believed them, even when it was storming outside.

There was Willard Scott on NBC’s Today Show, whose weather forecasts premiered in 1980 after appearing as Ronald McDonald for the fast food chain. I trusted him, too. He was just a good guy.

Most meteorologists were men; but that changed quickly, and today we have many great weather women. No one can pretend that good looks don’t have an impact on their popularity, although focusing on looks raises some serious issues that are best to avoid.

Television, though, has become more about looks than about news. P.J. Hoff and Fahey Flynn were no Chippendales.

Maybe that’s what fueled the women’s liberation movement; no male hunks doing the weather?

One of the funniest and most outgoing meteorologists at WGN-TV definitely is Paul Konrad. He comes across so honest in a journalism medium that is plagued by dishonesty.

Konrad’s great personality is so infectious that he has been used to host many entertaining segments audiences love, like his weekly Courtesy Desk, where he honestly answers viewer questions and concerns and passes along suggestions to his colleagues. He also hosts the weekly Friday Forecaster, which features an elementary school-aged student who helps do the weather on live TV.

What a cool thing for a young kid. It’s better than being on the old Bozo’s Circus, the TV draw for elementary school kids when I was growing up.

Another TV personality with a great personality who does the risky weather reports is Brant Miller. Also on this great list of personalities is Harry Volkman and John Coleman, all great TV personalities who made you feel trust.

Getting the day’s weather each morning is more important than getting the traffic and even the news, which often is so predictable, biased and spun that news is a turnoff.

One reason is the believability of the personalities doing the weather, which is more risky than doing the news.

The news is predictable. Weather is not. It can change on a dime.

They still come under a lot of criticism, however, and are the butt of many jokes in the entertainment biz.

One of the most memorable comes from Larry David and the hit comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm in which David once said, “Weathermen merely forecast the rain to keep everyone off the golf course.”

Bad weather reports didn’t keep me from much, but they did keep me off the golf course.

Ray Hanania is a former Chicago City Hall reporter and award-winning columnist. Visit hanania.com for more opinion.

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