The WLOX TV studios on Debuys Road look fairly calm from the outside. But inside, it’s a buzz of activity day and night. The local ABC affiliate delivers many of our favorite network shows interlaced with local live news coverage that has maintained a top five Nielsen rating for decades, and in this past November, the station was Number One in the national ratings. But, what makes WLOX extra special to South Mississippians is its top notch weather team. The three-men and one-woman squad of radar gazers deliver the rain, heat and storm forecasts we all rely on to plan our days. If they are not standing in front of the “green screen” showing viewers what is happening along the six coastal counties of South Mississippi and beyond, they are busy checking with the National Weather Service, reading computer read-outs, and discussing the best ways to communicate what’s in store for us in the coming days.
he WLOX TV studios on Debuys Road look fairly calm from the outside. But inside, it’s a buzz of activity day and night. The local ABC affiliate delivers many of our favorite network shows interlaced with local live news coverage that has maintained a top five Nielsen rating for decades, and in this past November, the station was Number One in the national ratings. But, what makes WLOX extra special to South Mississippians is its top notch weather team. The three-men and one-woman squad of radar gazers deliver the rain, heat and storm forecasts we all rely on to plan our days. If they are not standing in front of the “green screen” showing viewers what is happening along the six coastal counties of South Mississippi and beyond, they are busy checking with the National Weather Service, reading computer read-outs, and discussing the best ways to communicate what’s in store for us in the coming days. Chief Meteorologist, Mike Reader, said that half his day consists of collecting numbers provided by the National Weather Service (NWS). On a piece of paper, he writes down the high and low tides, high and low temperatures. This paper will be given to the graphics crew to display on WLOX’s 24/7 Weather Channel. “Sometimes NWS misses stuff,” Mike said. “The real forecasters are at NWS. We are the interpreters,” he said. Mike explained that air and sea currents can interact with the hard numbers provided by NWS, so temperatures often need to be adjusted according to wind direction and the cooling effect of a sea breeze. “And if you live in one place long enough,” Mike said, “you know better how to make those adjustments” to provide as accurate a weather picture as possible for the locals who depend on the Weather team to plan their days. Mike’s meteorological training came from the U.S. Navy, where he served for 20 years. He had the honor of being a Hurricane Hunter, and has flown through the heart of many a storm, collecting information for the National Hurricane Center. In 1983, Mike came to WLOX as the weekend weather man. “I was the weather guy that no one knew,” he said. All that changed in 1985, however. “We were watching Hurricane Elena, and it looked like it was going to turn toward Florida,” Mike recounted. It looked like the Mississippi Coast would be spared. But, when Mike took to the air waves for one last storm report, he told his viewers, “We’ll keep an eye on this storm in case it turns back.” And his suspicions were right. Elena took a sharp turn and headed back toward the Mississippi Coast. Mike spent the next 36 hours on the air non-stop covering the impending storm. He said that afterwards, viewers thought he was, “a real weather guru,” from then on. He received letters from fans. One fan wrote to tell him that he was going to tell President Reagan about his heroism. “I was ragged by my co-workers about those letters,” he said. And of course, the chiding didn’t stop after Mike actually did receive a letter from the president commending him for a job well done. But like most weathermen, Mike has received his share of “nasty” letters too. Mike recalls receiving one especially angry postcard from a local viewer who felt like his day was ruined when it rained when Mike had reported that it wasn’t too likely. Mike said for a log time he had the letter from President Reagan and the angry postcard displayed side by side on the wall above his desk. “I called it my Big Head Reality Check,” Mike said, because it reminded him how important his job is. “Our biggest job [as weather reporters],” Mike said, “is helping people get ready,” for what’s to come; and after a big storm, “letting them now where to go for help.” He said that when bad weather is headed this way, “we don’t evacuate… this is what we signed on for.” At this point he smiled and said that if you ever see him broadcasting from Hattiesburg, “you need to leave right away!” This dedication and attitude is shared by all members of the WLOX Weather Team. Good Morning Mississippi is the premier local weekday morning show for our area. There is nothing like waking up to see the energetic Tommy Richards delivering your day’s forecast as you prepare for work or play. His bright sense of humor and easy style makes him the perfect weatherman for the morning and midday news. Tommy began his career at WLOX in 1989 when Barbara Saloum hosted the morning show in a similar format to the national, Good Morning America, a very popular ABC network news program. He provided “cut-ins” with weather briefs interjected into the morning talk show. Today, you will find Tommy exchanging light-hearted banter, and discussing upbeat local news items, with co-host Rhonda Roberts. Tommy said he begins his daytime weather reports by “preparing our audience with a tour of the tropics.” And a tour it is! His animated demeanor and fluid hand sweeps, along with an almost melodic tone in his voice, gives one the impression of being on the best weather tour of the tropics one could imagine! Tommy obviously loves what he does and is proud to be part of WLOX’s success. “If you’re doing what you love,” he said, it doesn’t feel like work. Of the entire weather team, Tommy said, “we’re in tune with what we do, and we refine it every day.” Tommy said that one of his proudest experiences working at WLOX was covering Hurricane Katrina. “In 1998 [Hurricane Georges], no one was hurt,” he said, “but in Katrina, 180 people died.” Tommy said that the weather team did their job, “helping people prepare through disseminating information.” In the midst of the storm, the weather team stayed put in that little building on Debuys Road, just a half mile form the beach. The northeast corner of the roof flew off and, “the wind began swirling through the offices and the studio,” Tommy said. “As the building fell apart, we went to radar.” He was referring to national radar, which had no way to communicate to the rest of the country what was happening on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “I said, ‘No! No! This OUR story!” Tommy recounted. Then the power went out. The only connection they had to the outside was a laptop owned by young man from Weather Central, a graphics software provider. “His name was Joe. We now call him Hurricane Joe,” Tommy said. The laptop’s battery was not fully charged, but it had an out-of-area network card that allowed the WLOX Weather team to continue to broadcast locally to anyone who could see it. Tommy said that after twelve days of reporting anything they could, they began to hear from locals. The team had weathered another storm and kept their promise to keep us informed as best they could. Another team player at WLOX is Carrie Duncan. Carrie has been with WLOX for eight years and said she really enjoys working at the station. Although Carrie has a BS degree in geosciences, she said that she learns a lot from local fishermen. Just as Mike bring s a perspective to the weather reporting because of his navy experience, Carrie said, “Fishermen on the water know so much… A fisherman will say, ‘when you see this or that happening on the water, it means this.” Carrie appreciates understanding Mother Nature and she often shares that knowledge with her audience. “Like really high cirrus clouds,” she explained, “they predict rain in a few days.” And she likes to explain the terminology used by meteorologists. “When we say ‘30% chance of rain in the area,’ we will see rain.” The 30% means that percentage of the viewing area will have rain. It is not a probability number for the entire area. Carrie said, “We’re able to share knowledge so people can take care of themselves.” She also said that she likes the fact that we are an area that doesn’t have to cover heavy hews all the time, “so we can also share weather trivia and local weather news stories,” in more depth. Although Carrie is not a native to the Gulf Coast (she is from Starkville), she has enjoyed becoming a part of the community. She is often found at charity events, emceeing or just having a good time with the locals. But she finds herself remaining in a teaching role, even while on vacation. With a school teacher tone, she said, “Thunder is the sound of lightning.” Carrie’s favorite quote is from President Lincoln: “People are as happy as they want to be.” Carrie certainly has taken charge of her happiness, and she shares her enthusiasm for life and the weather with us every night, Tuesday through Saturday. Mike Reader calls weekend meteorologist Rob Knight, “a true utility player.” His friendly and professional manner makes him the perfect personality for weekend viewers and fill-in weather reports. Rob came to WLOX in 2004, making him the newest member of the team. While in the Air Force, Rob was a meteorology instructor and has travelled and monitored weather events around the world. Rob had the pleasure of having his on air debut on WLOX covering Hurricane Katrina. Although the newest member of the storm-riding family at WLOX, he was an integral part of keeping South Mississippians informed and prepared as the Category Five storm approached. Rob’s fellow team members find him to be dependable, and he brings yet another perspective and knowledge set to weather reporting for South Mississippi. “He loves the camera,” Carrie said. And the camera loves him. His weather reports are clear and engaging, covering the important weather news that keeps us enjoying our weekend barbecues and outings.