They love that channel, come rain or shine Weather watchers

January 10, 1994|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Staff Writer

You might live with one. You certainly know one. Your husband, son, wife or friend might be a weather junkie. Winter storm or fair skies, this sub-culture of weather buffs is glued to the cable guardian angel named the Weather Channel.

"We call them weather weenies," says Marny Stanier, an on-air meteorologist at the Weather Channel. "People who are addicted to the weather. . . very strange."

The Weather Channel reaches 55.4 million homes, or 90 percent of the houses with cable. More than 1.2 million viewers nationwide watched during last March's blizzard. Based in Ted Turner's Atlanta back yard, the 12-year-old Weather Channel consistently ranks as one of the three most popular cable networks among viewers, according to industry researchers.

"It's entertaining if you're into weather data like I am. For the average person, it might be boring," says Herb Close Jr., a 35-year-old electronics technician in Hunt Valley.

Besides the Weather Channel, about the only show Mr. Close remembers watching with any regularity or loyalty is "Home Improvement." Usually, he sticks to the Weather Channel. Love those computer graphics, long-range forecasts and snowfall amounts, he says.

This is entertainment? One serious person gesturing in front of a map the livelong day?

"We decided the weather would be the star and not the people on the air. It's not that they are mechanical or don't have personalities -- they have a job to do," says Kathy Lane, public relations manager for the Weather Channel.

They do play it straight, says Ms. Stanier. "We don't want to be [like] local weathermen and be nuts."

And that's part of the reason the Weather Channel is endearing to millions. After all, we can get our weather from the radio, local TV, or do the inconceivable by walking outside and seeing for ourselves. But there's something about these straight-faced folks on the air at the Weather Channel. They appeal to weather junkies' natural inclination toward being sensible.

The channel's anchors get to the point without the glitz or weather hype, says Jim Moorhead, assistant principal at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis. He's an admitted Weather Channel junkie because he loves its jargon-free approach.

While station research indicates most viewers watch 10 or 15 minutes at a sitting, Mr. Moorhead says he can watch for 25 minutes. "I can track for that long," he says.

Track is one of those words weather buffs use.

Mr. Moorhead's wife, Jeanie, could write a book and call it, "I Married a Weather Channel Junkie." She bought her husband a big fat weather book for Christmas as a joke. The book became his favorite present. In between Winnie the Pooh videos, the man even makes their 8-month-old son, Sam, watch the Weather Channel with him.

"He doesn't quite get it yet," Mr. Moorhead says.

"It's sickening," says Mrs. Moorhead, laughing.

Mr. Moorhead and millions of others are ripe for the channel's taking because the network reaps the benefit of a potential audience that springs eternal. Most of us have some degree of interest in the weather. The Weather Channel's Ms. Lane has broken us down into three groups:

1. The Weather-Indifferent. People who just cope with the weather. "Oh, OK, it will rain. It's not going to stop me or anything," Ms. Lane says. It's the type of person who gets excited about the weather only when a hurricane looms.

2. The Weather-Concerned. This type of person might be packing for a business trip and needs to know the weather in Dallas or wherever. Moms want to know how to dress their kids for school. So, they flip on the Weather Channel.

3. The Weather-Involved. These people are fascinated with the weather. The network had to hire a person just to handle the calls and thank-you cards from weather buffs, some of whom say they watch the channel up to eight hours a day.

Kevin Shaw, a nautical cartographer in Gaithersburg, listens to the Weather Channel on and off all day. He's got relatives in southern California, Tennessee and Seattle. Knowing their weather somehow keeps him in touch with them and always gives him something to talk about on the phone.

"Half the time we talk about the weather," says Mr. Shaw, 43. "My mom yells at me, 'That's enough about the weather!' "

Nearly every hour of every winter day, 14-year-old Jerry Gay of Columbia checks in with the Weather Channel. He needs his 10-minute fix. His affection has nothing to do with the weather graphics and radar. For Jerry, this has to do with a far greater interest: getting out of school.

"The best news they can give me is '12 inches of snow,' " Jerry says. "I watch it constantly for snow days."

He and others are watching a rotating team of on-air meteorologists, including a few with local connections. Declan Cannon, another on-air meteorologist, is a native of Annapolis. Thomas Moore, who has been with the Weather Channel since 1982, got his meteorology degree from the University of Maryland.

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