The Weather Dude

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Like many other Fort Worth natives, Nick Walker was anxious about the weatherforecast for the area on March 28, 2000. He knew that colliding strong warm andcold fronts would likely produce supercell thunderstorms that could result inhail, or worse, a tornado outbreak.

Before the end of the day, Walker's fears came true. Tornadoes hit FortWorth and nearby Arlington and Grand Prairie in the early evening, causing widespreaddamage in both downtown Fort Worth and several neighborhoods. Five deaths wereattributed to the storm.

But Walker couldn't let his fears tear him up. As an on-camera meteorologistfor The Weather Channel in Atlanta, he had to be calm and objective while reportingon the tornadoes during Evening Edition.

"The storms still affected me because my parents still live in Fort Worth," hesays. "But it was real gratifying to know that what I was doing could possiblysave lives."

DJ to storm tracker

Now the co-host of The Weather Channel's First Outlook, which airs weekdaysfrom 4 to 6 a.m. Central time, Walker didn't initially consider a careerin meteorology. He entered North Texas State University in 1971 to major in communications.He worked as a disk jockey for KNTU-FM, the campus radio station.

"The radio station was a great experience because I learned to ad lib. Today,almost everything I say on camera is an ad lib," he says.

After graduating in 1977, Walker worked briefly for a Denton radio station, thenswitched to television. He was hired by a San Angelo station.

"I shot film, wrote stories and anchored. It was a great place to start," hesays.

Walker then worked at television stations in Austin and Wichita, Kan., beforejoining KIRO-TV in Seattle as an anchor and reporter.

In late 1992, he was asked to fill in for one of the station's meteorologists,who had suddenly quit.

"I knew nothing about weather reporting. I learned how to work the weather computerin four days, and the news director advised before my first day to just readthe report from the National Weather Service and point to the clouds on the satellite," Walkersays.

He expected to return to news reporting in a few months.

Seattle's "Inauguration Day Windstorm" in January 1993 changedhis mind, however. The storm sent gusts up to 100 mph to Seattle and other citiesin Washington, toppled trees and power poles and forced widespread closure ofroads. More than 600 homes were destroyed or sustained major damage.

After reporting on the storm, Walker became hooked on weather.

"Only one person died in Seattle. I realized that weather reporting saves lives," Walkersays. "It's what I've wanted to do ever since."

After deciding to make weather forecasting a career, he earned a certificatein broadcast meteorology through a correspondence program at Mississippi StateUniversity. He joined The Weather Channel in 1999.

Singing about snow

Walker doesn't just explain weather to the business travelers who are theprimary audience for his Weather Channel show. As the "Weather Dude," heregularly gives presentations to elementary school students. A musician sincehigh school, Walker also produced a CD, Sing Along With the Weather Dude, with10 songs to explain weather to children.

He became the "Weather Dude" when his Seattle station asked him tospeak at an elementary school.

"A teacher suggested I sing a weather song to keep her class's attention.I wrote a little rap song, and later wrote two more songs. Then I decided todo a recording," Walker says.

His CD and the accompanying book are now being used in classrooms across the United States. Walker also maintains a web site (www.wxdude.com) to answer questions about the weather.

"Explaining weather to students keeps me sharp. Once in a while, a questionwill stump me, and I'll go to one of The Weather Channel experts for theanswer. I always learn something new," he says.

Taking weather seriously

Since joining The Weather Channel, Walker has covered several significant weather events in addition to the Fort Worth tornado, including Hurricane Floyd in September 1999.

Walker says large storms increase viewership of the channel.

"The weather determines the ratings. A snowstorm impacting only a smallarea is not going to get the audience of a snowstorm that affects several majormetropolitan areas like New York and Boston," he says.

He says the biggest challenge facing meteorologists is finding a line between underplaying a storm and overwarning about it.

"You want to err on the side of caution, giving people the idea of thestorm's potential without scaring them," he says.

When weather isn't always as predicted, some blame the meteorologist, he says.

"Hurricane Floyd looked like it would hit Florida at first, but it passedFlorida by. People who had prepared for the storm were mad at us," he says.

At the same time, others don't take The Weather Channel seriously.

"Lots of people like to poke fun at it," Walker says, adding thatclips of him aired on the Late Show with David Letterman and Comedy Central'sThe Daily Show. "But it does provide a valuable service. When I was a newsreporter, not everyone watched my stories, but just about everyone watches theweather. After I started doing weather in Seattle, people would actually cometo me on the street to talk."

And while Walker feels gratification in providing useful information about approachingstorms, he personally prefers quieter weather.

"My favorite weather is blue sky, temperatures in the 70s and low humidity," hesays. "We only get a few days like that in Atlanta. But it's alwayswonderful when it happens."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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