At my very first Mid-Atlantic Meteorological Association convention, I literally ran right into my idol, Chris Spencer. Spencer was the weatherman on one of the “Big Three” morning news programs and was the keynote speaker for the convention. After I helped him up, he asked me my name.
“Seth, sir,” I said, still in awe that he was speaking to me.
“Scott, lemme tell ya. The most important thing a weatherman does is make sure that people still believe that he just might be right this time. Oh, that and avoid contact with ‘em any chance you can.”
I took that advice to heart, particularly the second part, which is why the public appearances of “Scott McCloud” rarely involve any up-close face-time with people, and why when his shift at KGLG-TV is over, the guy walking out of the studio dressing room is some balding, slightly overweight guy named Seth Cohen.
Speaking of, girdles suck. Had to get that out.
As far as the first part, that job’s been made ridiculously easy. Back in Spencer’s day, the job consisted of drawing storm front and jet stream tracks by hand, keeping careful track of the barometric pressure and how quickly it changed, and consulting volumes of historical data to determine averages and likely weather patterns.
Nowadays? My job can be done by a free widget on a computer desktop. Still, I like to think I add some flare and some style to the whole thing. Or at least that’s the story I keep telling our GM. It helps that not only aren’t we network-affiliated, but we’re the only station that reaches most of the ‘Gap’s residents, so he really doesn’t care what we do, as long as we don’t upset the FCC, and as long as I keep talking about the weather.
On Fridays, I like to give a look at the coming week’s weather so that the extremely small segment of the population that both 1) works outdoors, and 2) plans ahead, can prep for it. Most of the time, this involves going to the weather data website, entering the ‘Gap’s zip code and a date, and scribbling down the highs, lows, and the weather that will be the prime mover that day.
Somewhere around 5:15 on this particular Friday, I prepped for the 6:00 program. That day had been rainy, but the storm had passed, so the total rainfall amounts were already tallied. The weekend was going to be textbook normal for mid-March. And Monday’s and Tuesday’s temps looked fairly warm, with some clouds moving back in Tuesday evening. When I punched in the date for Wednesday, though, the site came back with an error message, saying “No data”. Our connection to the Internet isn’t the most reliable, so I decided to wait a few minutes while I “transformed” myself into Scott McCloud.
Oh, that reminds me. Toupees are itchy. No getting around it.
At about ten minutes before air, I tried again. Craig, our graphics guy, was getting antsy about not having everything set. Again, “No data”. It wouldn’t even pull up the normals. Same for Thursday…and for next Friday, too. I entered a different zip code which pulled up new numbers for Monday and Tuesday, meaning I still had a connection, but Wednesday stayed blank. I told Craig I’d have something by first break, and we went to air.
First segment went pretty normally. Rick led with a piece on that Foster guy who hacked up his boss at the oil company last week, while Laurie had a puff piece on the new owner of Thomas Toys. Then Rick threw to me, and I gave the typical quick rundown of the day’s major stats, and a hint of what the weekend had in store. Then back to Laurie for a touch of national news. And commercial.
Almost before the PM called out, “Back in four!”, Craig was storming out of the production room. “So, Wednesday?” he barked.
I was already at the terminal, but nothing new was coming out of it. I looked at my notes for Monday and Tuesday, and averaged them out. “Uh, clear skies, high 63, low 29.” Craig grunted, scribbled those down, then asked about Thursday with the same charm and flair.
“Um… Same thing,” I hedged. His skepticism was palpable, and I started to feel defensive. “Look, Golden Boy, just put the happy little sun and some numbers up there, and we’ll be just fine.”
Craig’s glare deepened to a glower, but then he shrugged and said, “Whatever you say, McCloud.” The PM was waving us back on set, so Craig hurried out, and I went back behind the desk.
Everything went normally for the segment, but as I went through the extended forecast, I warned, “There seems to be some … disagreement in the predictor models, but as of right now, it looks like we’ll have continued good weather through the rest of the week. And that’s your Scott McCloud Wonda-Weather Forecast. Back to you, Laurie.”
To cut down on costs, my segments are usually re-aired for the 11:00 program, and they have the weekend anchors just read off the next day’s forecast, so after 6:30, I’m done for the weekend. I spent the weekend like I usually do — tooling around the Internet, looking for info about up-and-coming companies. I dabble a bit in day-trading stocks. So far it’s only earned me a few bucks, but I keep trying. You never know when you’re going to catch lightning in a bottle.
Monday morning, at the studio, I ran into Rick. “This just in,” he smarmed, “Martin is on the warpath, so lay low.” He gave a chuckle that on anyone else would sound fake. On him, it only sounded sincere because he was sincerely fake. I hurried to my terminal and tried again to pull data for Wednesday. No dice.
“Cohen! My office!” The GM’s bellow jolted me. Martin got a charge out of being able to tell people that he ran a TV station, but he was pretty ineffective at it. Mostly, he let us run things and only got involved when things went wrong. As soon as I walked into his office, though, and saw Craig sitting there… Clarification: As soon as I saw his son sitting there, I knew what had gone wrong.
“Cohen, what’s this ‘Golden Boy’ shit all about?! Craig, here, works just as much as the rest of you slackabouts!” The downside about us only seeing Martin when he was upset was that nobody knew if his voice had a lower volume. I mumbled a lame apology, an “it won’t happen again,” and a couple of “Hail Marty”’s or something like that.
But Martin wasn’t done. “I don’t wanna hear it, Cohen! I need you to be a team player!” I nodded, wordlessly. I sensed danger; I could feel the hair on the back of my neck getting restless. “Good! ‘Cause you – or should I say Scott McCloud is gonna lead our ‘team coverage’ of the very next event on-the-street, and we’ll be just fine, yeah?” He jabbed a beefy thumb at his door, indicating my dismissal. Craig smirked.
I stormed out of there. There was no sense arguing with him, and I couldn’t afford to lose this job. I hated live reporting, particularly since Craig’s brother, Greg, was our remote cameraman, and he was just as much of a winner as the rest of his family.
I spent the next hour trying to figure out some way of getting data for the rest of the forecast, but every database I went to refused any information past 11:59 Tuesday night. Years back, I had installed a weather predictor software package on my computer — I stopped using it because it incessantly predicted two to four inches of mixed precipitation, even in August. I tried it.
For Monday, it said, “Clear, high 59.”
For Tuesday, it said, “Morning: clear, high 67. Evening: scat. T-storms, mixed precipitation. 2-4” total accum.”
For Wednesday, it said, “No data.”
I was really starting to get nervous, but rather than dwelling, I decided to put that nervous energy to good use. I walked back to the records room. It was time to pull out what little of my meteorological training I remembered and do it the old-fashioned way.
After three hours, I had the next two weeks of possible weather mapped out. I like to think ol’ Spencer would’ve been proud of me.
I handed my numbers to Craig well ahead of time for the noon program with a smile. He grunted, shrugged, and went to plug them in without a word. The show went off without a hitch, as did the 6:00. When I came in Tuesday morning, I checked the actuals against my predicted temps for Monday, and I was spot-on.
It felt good.
I double-checked the figures I had put together, and saw that the cold front that had been hanging over Lake Huron was heading our way, and was going to clash with the warm front that had given us the recent good weather. In fact, I could watch the barometric pressure falling. Oddly, though, none of the online databases made any mention of it. I warned the viewers at noon that, although the NWS wasn’t saying anything yet, they should be prepared for a pretty fierce storm. And just before the 6:00, I looked outside the studio. The sky had gone the color of charcoal, and the town Welcome sign was whipping back and forth in the steady gale.
I went into the studio, checked my makeup in a mirror, and sat down at the desk. The PM checked his watch and called out, “We’re live in 5!…4!…3!…” Normally, at this point, he would count out the last two silently with his fingers, because our mics would go hot at 3. But this time, we weren’t sure if he did, because, with a deafening boom, all the lights in the place surged to full, causing some to explode in a rain of fire, and then immediately, everything went dark.
The PM recovered first. I heard him call out, “Power’s down! Everybody good?”
Rick came next. “Our lead story: What the hell was that?”
Laurie answered him. “He just said, idiot. Power’s out. And stop fondling me.”
And then, another voice. One I didn’t recognize at first, but it didn’t take me long to place. “All right, team. Looks like we’ve been hit by lightning. But our remote should still be fine. Greg, get your gear. And McCloud? Get outside – you’re on.”
I stepped out into the tempest, and in the failing light, I could see the splintered and scorched telephone pole that had been hit, but no fire or any other damage. Seemed a bit of a letdown. Greg cleared his throat to get my attention, chucked a handheld mic at me, and I saw the red “Live” light on his camera was blinking. No time to think. Just say what’s happening.
“This is a special report for KGLG Action News. I’m meteorologist Scott McCloud, and we’re standing outside our studio where a lightning strike has shut down our power, as well as that of most of the town around-” Greg had started snickering while I was talking. The draft on my noggin told me the wind had blown my toupee right off.
I was about to lay into Greg and his sneering giggle, on air or not, when the wind hurled a chunk of telephone pole into my back. It didn’t knock me down, but it hit hard enough to snap the strings on my girdle.
And no matter how bad they suck getting on, that is not the way you want to take a girdle off.
So, bald and looking like my shirt had exploded, I stared into Greg’s camera and soldiered on. “Stay indoors until this is allover, folks…” I noticed the hairs on the back of my neck standing up again. Danger, I thought. Better wrap this up and go out with a bang. “This has been Scott McCloud with your Wonda-Weather Forecast, reminding you that lightning never strikes twi-”
– – –
“…Thanks, Laurie. That is a lot of puppies. Ha.
“Once again, our top news story tonight, the KGLG team extends our most sincere sympathies to the entire McCloud family with the tragic death by lightning of our good friend, Scott.
“We also have been directed by the FCC to apologize for the grisly footage from earlier tonight, and to announce that this will be our last newscast for the foreseeable future. Thank you, and good night.”