You thought this day would never come, graduation from high school. Now you have the whole summer to dream about what comes next. You’re 17 and you have had a pretty good life. You plan to go to college and become a meteorologist. It is what you’ve wanted to do since fourth grade. You grew up watching the person who would prove to be your mentor, George Winterling.
You did well in high school, but you are not the sharpest tool in the shed. You will discover this as soon as you arrive at Florida State University. There will be 52 freshmen who declare meteorology as their major, but only 9 of you will make it to graduation. It will be a struggle. There will be times you doubt whether you are smart enough to do this, but you will persevere. You will be amazed at the wealth and breadth of knowledge available at FSU. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from your classmates as they are going through the same thing.
Finally you make it to graduation where the speaker, E. R. Braithwaite, the author of To Sir With Love, will make a comment you will never forget. He tells the graduates that their degree is just a piece of paper. It is YOU that gives it meaning. What you do will give it value. Your hard work will give your degree all the value it needs. So, prepare yourself…for the best is yet to come.
You are about to embark on an amazing career. Your path will not be the tried and true path of a meteorologist. Like your college days it will be a struggle, because you want to be the best. You will be a pioneer…not once, not twice, but three times. Your first opportunity will come after a year-long struggle to find a job as a meteorologist. Not an easy task during the 1974-75 recession. However, you will enter the field of television and become the first meteorologist to present the weather on TV in Memphis, Tennessee. This is not what you trained for, but you will learn. The most important thing you will learn is how to communicate with your audience. A valuable skill that empowers the community to trust you. And, still…the best is yet to come.
The next job will be one of the best you could ever have. You will work at the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City. Learning about severe weather will be all consuming, but you are about to be part of a revolution in the way weather is presented on TV. Your station will be the first to use the new Apple II computer to produce weather on-air, making you a pioneer in the area of weather graphics.
During your time in Oklahoma City you will meet a number of interesting personalities like Leonard Nimoy and Mel Blanc. You will be exposed to some of the greats in meteorology like Ted Fujita, Kerry Emanuel, Ed Kessler and Chester Newton. Your boss, Jim Williams, will leave you with two ideas that will stick with you for the rest of your career. 1) You’re only as good as your last forecast and 2) it takes a long time to build credibility, so guard it judiciously. As good as Oklahoma City is…the best is yet to come.
You will need everything you have learned in Oklahoma City as you go to Wichita, Kansas. Your time at the Kansas State Network and WeatherData will be well spent, but taxing. You will work more severe weather in two years than most meteorologists see in a lifetime. It will be exhausting work and soon you will grow weary of the intensity. It’s time to move on, because…the best is yet to come.
Working in South Carolina will seem like a vacation compared to life in the Plain states. You will find your soulmate in an elementary school teacher and you will be able to enjoy life. The two of you will not have children of your own, but children will always be around as she is a teacher loved by her students. Many of whom will visit the TV station even years after they graduate from her class.
Some of the most fulfilling work in your career will be here in South Carolina and this is where you will spend most of your career. You will make two historic forecasts in 1989 that no one saw coming. The first one will be a snowstorm in February that you will consider your best forecast. However, the forecast of Hurricane Hugo is what everyone will remember. This will teach you the importance of the science over just blindly following the computer models. You will use this time and time again to help save lives.
An opportunity will come to further your education by doing post-graduate work in atmospheric science at the University of South Carolina. It will be hard to work in television and go to school, but you will find it well worth the effort because you will become more knowledgeable about the dynamics of weather systems. You will work with and get to know a number of researchers at that institution. This will give you the chance to teach others about the weather. Life is good, but the best is yet to come.
It will be a hard decision, but you will spend a year with Gannet Corporate and time on-the-air in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. learning new ideas and techniques. When you return to Columbia you will shake things up with the introduction of a 7-day forecast. That remains the standard to this day. The community will rely on your forecasts and coverage of severe weather. Your ability to analyze and anticipate weather events will be unmatched by anyone. This will be a key to your success. And, as good as this is, the best is yet to come.
Something will happen. Something you never saw coming. You might scoff at it now, but it is one of the existential threats to humanity. In 2009 you will be given an opportunity to pioneer an effort to teach your community about climate change and how it is impacting them. It will be called Climate Matters: a collaborative experiment between the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, Climate Central in Princeton, New Jersey, and WLTX-TV. The year-long project will result in two scientific papers, numerous presentations, and will make you a recognized expert in climate change. It will lead to the creation of Gandy’s Garden, which will allow you to teach your community about how to combat the rising costs of food.
Your work in this area will also land you an interview with the president of the United States…and the only interview of a sitting president by anyone at WLTX. WOW! But be cool…they expect you to be. What a trip it will turn out to be including going live from the White House. Climate Matters will lead to your election as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society, a rare honor amongst broadcast meteorologists. As of 2019 almost 700 broadcast meteorologist and 200 journalists will use the material from Climate Matters in the United States; and it will also be used internationally.
Your trailblazing efforts on climate change will bring recognition to you and WLTX. You will be mentioned and written about in Rolling Stone magazine, The New York Times and numerous other publications. Be honest about what you know and enjoy the conversation with other journalists. And, always ask for a copy of their article on you.
Your work will change with the industry, but it will always be an advancement. Your forecasts will be the best, because you are so competitive and knowledgeable. And you will be a winner, because no one works harder than you.
As you get ready to leave your career in television, you are excited about the path forward. Your life’s work is the combined threads of dedication, friends, and family. You will find that when one door closes, another one opens. It has been a magnificent journey, but I can’t help but think: the best is yet to come.