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  WINDY CITY TIMES

EYE ON THE MEDIA: THE FULL MONTY
by David R. Guarino
2001-03-21

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"As in so many things with weather, Meteorology is a very imperfect science. Atmospheric Science is a very imperfect science. You know, I'm an old fashioned guy. I like to come up with a forecast myself, you know, what if the computer's wrong? Computers make mistakes all the time. ...

"I would like to think that a person wouldn't have to hide who they are for fear of not having work, no matter what your beliefs are or no matter what your lifestyle is." — Monty Webb

Anyone who has battled a Chicago blizzard or sweated through an August heatwave in The Windy City knows that the weather in the nation's third largest metropolis can often be just about as unpleasant as it gets. Bone-chilling wind chills, lake-effect mini-blizzards, and relentless summer heat and humidity make forecasting Chicago's weather a challenge for the brave at heart.

Unveiling the often unwelcome details to Chicagoans in a palatable way can be a tricky business at best, so it pays to have your ducks in a row, be as accurate and reliable as possible, and by all means be likable. Chicagoans take their news, and their weather forecasts seriously—mayors and other city officials have lost their jobs due to substandard handling of weather-related issues. Just ask former Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic, who lost his bid for reelection to Jane Byrne in 1979 when he mishandled the cleanup of a major Chicago snowstorm in that fateful year.

It is two past the hour of 5 a.m. on the WBBM-TV Channel 2 morning newscast. Mary Ann Childers and Jay Levine introduce "Weather on the 2's." Enter Monty Webb, Channel 2's local morning Meteorologist with personality to spare. Born in Tacoma, Wash., the happy-go-lucky and often mischievous Webb knows his business when it comes to jet streams, isobars and mesoscales. Monty takes us through a carefully prepared preview of the next five days of Chicago weather, having started his forecasting hours before in the Channel 2 weather station with his assistant, Mike Chesterfield, a Met graduate of Northern. The two prepare individual forecasts in the wee hours of the morning when most of us are still sound asleep counting sheep instead of hailstones.

Webb is a full member of the American Meteorological Society and received an Emmy in 1997 from the Northwest Regional Television Academy. In 1995, he was named Best Weather Anchor by the Idaho Press Association.

WCT: Monty, the first question that comes to my mind is, are you naturally a morning person? What is it like to be on the set with a smile on your face at 5 a.m. every weekday morning?

MW: ( laughs ) Some mornings it's pretty difficult, but I'm just kind of a cheerful guy. I mean it's like, my wife is always amazed because she'll call up sometimes during some of these cut-ins, and I will have forgotten to take out the garbage, all right? ( We both start laughing ) And she'll call up and she'll go, "Darn it, Monty, you did it again, you did not take out the garbage, now I've got to take it." So we're literally, I'm on the phone and they're ( the directors and camera crew ) in my ear telling me, "We've got a minute, we're coming to you in a minute." And we're ( my wife and I ) are going on and I shout "Just a minute!" A second later I'm saying, "Good morning, we have a chance of…." And I'm smiling and everything and my wife will tell me, "I hate you." Because we're going back and forth. No, I'm not normally a morning person, but you know, I try to take whatever I'm dealt and try to be happy about it. There's nothing I hate worse than hearing my alarm go off at 1:30 in the morning. And I actually set two alarms, one on the nightstand and one across the room on the dresser as a backup in case I don't hit the snooze and turn it ( the alarm ) off. Does it get any easier? No. You just learn to accept the pain of getting up at 1:30 in the morning.

WCT: Have you always wanted to be a Meteorologist?

MW: Yeah. You know, I've been interested in weather for quite a long time. I remember being interested in weather when I was in Junior High and High School and was kind of struck by the awe of Mother Nature. I remember one of the first times seeing a really good thunderstorm or a really good lightning storm. We don't get too many of those in Seattle, but we were with the family in Montana and it was in the evening and these nocturnal thunderstorms had popped up with the flashes and the booms, and I went to the window to watch. And it was just like watching Mother Nature put on this tremendous fireworks show in the sky. And it sparked my interest. And I had the wonderful opportunity of having the Air Force pay for my education provided that I provide some time for them. I spent nine years in the Air Force, from the summer of 1980 to January of 1990.

WCT: Where were you stationed, Monty?

MW: Let's see. I was stationed downstate Illinois at Scott Air Force Base. I was also stationed in Osan, Korea, and my middle child was born in Seoul. I also was in Oklahoma City for a time.

WCT: And you have three children?

MW: Yes, and we really spread them out. My oldest daughter is 20 and a sophomore in college, the middle daughter is 15 and my son is six.

WCT: The so-called Greenhouse effect. First of all, is the Greenhouse effect a myth? And if it's a valid theory, could you briefly explain it to us?

MW: Well, I wouldn't say it's a myth. I myself personally believe that it's probably hyped up. I think the media plays a major role in hyping it up saying, you know, Global Warming, we're all going to die. You can take any statistics, any numbers and make them say what you want them to say.

Some of the data they have used to say, you know, we have warmed up five degrees in the last 30 years. Well, you know they're looking at a very small set of numbers ( sample ) , and they're saying, "we've warmed up." Well, if you want to get down to it, the Planet Earth has been warming up since the end of the last Ice Age.

Some of the recent warming trends that they have cited could be caused by a number of factors. The earth's climate has a tendency to go through cycles where you'll see periods of a hundred years, two hundred years where the earth heats up or cools down and these are natural cycles.

Is the earth going through one of these cycles right now? Also within the last 50 years, there has been a massive changeover of all the weather sensing equipment that The National Weather Service uses. Plus The National Weather Service observation sites are usually in city areas which are warmer due to what is known as The Heat Island Effect. Buildings, sidewalks, cement-they trap the incoming solar radiation and they reradiate it out. So major metropolitan cities have a tendency to be five to ten degrees warmer at night than the suburbs.

So I'm not a big believer in saying that Global Warming is really happening. By the same token, is putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere a good idea? I don't think so. Should we try to figure out ways to eliminate or reduce the amount of greenhouse gases? Yeah. The bottom line is that the data is very incomplete. The modeling programs that they use to forecast how much we're going to warm up have a lot of built-in flaws.

WCT: The space program. Diesel buses. Corporate pollutants shroud the air all hours of the day and night. Do these factors influence weather patterns and how dangerous are they?

MW: All right. Do they affect weather patterns as a global? No. These things do emit greenhouse gases and greenhouse gases have been proven to cause maybe some warming. Water particles will attach to the pollutants being emitted into the atmosphere and when it starts raining, that's where you get the acid rain from. Acid rain has really done some damage to some of the forests up in the New England states. So on a synoptic scale ( park area ) , and on a mesoscale ( back door—small scale area ) yes, all of the above have an effect on weather in specific areas.

WCT: How important is accuracy in Meteorology? Would you be in trouble if more than 25% of your forecasts were inaccurate?

MW: My standard response to accuracy in TV is this: In weather, if I get the forecast wrong, people expect it because I'm just a weatherman. If I get it right, they think I'm a god. ( We are both laughing. ) So with that said, let me compare what I just said to when I was in the Air Force. In the Air Force accuracy was of the utmost importance. We forecasted in the Air Force on there was no chance of this or chance of that, so we forecasted on 100% chance of occurrence or nonoccurrence. Starts and stops of precipitation, ceiling heights of clouds, visibility, everything. But you're forecasting for just the base. And providing flight weather from point 'A' to point 'B.' In TV weather you're covering a much broader area.

WCT: What would you like your viewers to know about you that they don't know now, Monty?

MW: Oh, you know, I don't know that there's much that my viewers don't know, because what you see on TV is basically me. I mean, I chat about everything from the kids, to my wife to my lawn to having a tattoo that I got when I was in the Air Force. That's a reoccurring joke that comes up all the time.

So, I mean, basically what you see is just me. I'm just a normal guy who happens to get paid for doing the weather. For doing what I enjoy. I'm just your average Joe like everyone else. With my job, everyone just watches me work.

WCT: If Mary Ann ( Childers ) , Jay ( Levine ) and Linda ( Mc Clennan ) could critique you right now, what is one criticism they would point out?

MW: Let's see. I would probably say that I like to goof around a little bit too much. I would probably say that would be it. Especially on the morning show, you know, they're busy trying to work, or reading ahead. And you know I have my forecast done. You know, my graphics are made. And if the weather's nice, I have nothing to do but get up and talk every ten minutes. And I want to goof around. I want to liven things up. And I do like to zing Jay to see if he's on his toes, so I guess that would be it.

WCT: In your opinion, are there still reasons for TV Meteorologists to stay in the closet regarding their sexuality?

MW: Well, as far as in the media in general as well as society, I think it has become more accepted. You know, I've never had any personal experience with anyone being discriminated against because of his or her lifestyles or beliefs or religion or race. So I don't know if I have a real wide background to draw from, just because I've never seen any difference from when I started ten years ago to right now.

I would like to think that a person wouldn't have to hide who they are for fear of not having work, no matter what your beliefs are or no matter what your lifestyles are. I don't see any overt type of discrimination one way or another.

————

So I had some great laughs talking with Monty Webb. I also learned a fair amount from the hour we shared. I know I'll never make it as a Meteorologist, but I feel I've truly found a weatherman who I can trust and even make me laugh, this helps considerably at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. when I often arise.

If perchance you are an early riser by choice or, like me, you have to be up and about between 5 and 7 a.m., consider catching your weather forecast from WBBM-TV on the 2's with Monty Webb. Take it from me, a Chicago snowstorm is a lot easier to weather ( pun intended ) when you face it with a smile, before frostbite sets in.

E-mail: DavdRonald@aol.com


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