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Sunny and Mild: Getting to Know Our Fair-Weather Friends of Local News 

Or, how Ted Turner saved Dallas Raines from network hell

Wednesday, Jun 4 2008
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Weathercasters in Los Angeles take a lot of flack. How tough a job can it be when every day here seems to be 72 degrees and sunny with zero-percent chance of rain? To those who’ve been caught without an umbrella in an unexpected downpour, predicting the weather can feel more like voodoo science than the “technical art” KNBC’s Fritz Coleman knows it really is.

Kevin Scanlon

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click to flip through (4) KEVIN SCANLON - When it Raines . . .
     
 

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When it Raines . . .

Kevin Scanlon

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Head turner: Elita Loresca

Kevin Scanlon

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The entertainer: Mark Thompson

Yet L.A.’s weather personalities also get a lot of love. We welcome them into our living rooms night after night, and wake up to their cheerful advice about whether we’ll need a sweater to face the day.

But few of us realize that a tremendous amount of both science and communication skills goes into forecasting the weather. We in Los Angeles live in what Coleman, arguably the most gifted communicator of the bunch, calls a “geographic irony,” where a desert nestles up against an ocean, where nine microclimates mean that two feet of snow on Mount Baldy can co-exist with roses blooming in Huntington Beach, and where drizzling is major, insanity-inducing weather. On paper, it seems like it shouldn’t work, but it does. And since weather largely moves from west to east, our local weathercasters are the country’s advance guard, prophets of sunshine and the storm. Phoenix, Cincinnati, New York, New Orleans all look to us to see what the wind will bring.

The senior weathermen of our local evening newscasts have longevity and represent the continuity of our lives. They are concise, funny, smart and sincere but never condescending. Condescending is a deathblow to a weather forecaster, who must appeal to as wide a segment of the population as is humanly possible. That this audience both demands of and lambastes them for a softer, more easily digestible presentation — the shrinking of the American attention span is no secret, and neither is the sense that the stuff we’re watching on the news isn’t really “news” — only adds a level of complexity to the job.

ABC7’s Dallas Raines tells amazing stories and finds the drama buried within the dry prattle of meteorology. FOX 11’s Mark Thompson is the guy who always makes us laugh, whom we look forward to hanging out with after a tough day at work. And for those of us too young to have ever seen the bow-tied Dr. George Fischbeck of Eyewitness News in action, KNBC’s Coleman is a father figure — good sense and stability personified. CBS 2’s Johnny Mountain, meanwhile, with his shock of cottony-white hair and jolly delivery, is the Santa Claus of weather. There would have been much to ask him — he claims to be a journalist because he has “low self-esteem,” and his favorite author is the “person who wrote Find Waldo” — but alas, I did not meet the criteria he specifies in his official KCBS bio (his dream interview: “Myself to me”), and he alone among L. A.’s four major weathercasters is unprofiled here.

Of course, the friendly, nonthreatening so-called “weathergirl” has always played a part in the news package. But only lately is she coming to prominence as a bona-fide weather woman. It used to be that the weather desk was the only way a woman could break into TV news. Before the appearance of the straight-talking, helmet-haired female co-anchors of the ’70s and ’80s, reporting on murders and wars was mostly a boys’ game. But as competition from cable networks and alternative infotainment sources increased, and as our local stations tried desperately to reach younger viewers, our female weathercasters started dressing less and less like the silk-bloused-executive Mensa-candidate wannabes of yore. With long, sometimes-golden, sometimes-brown tresses tumbling across her tanned shoulders, and tight, plunging V-neck tops over tight jeans, Fox 11’s Jillian Reynolds (née Barberie) pioneered the Forever 21 style of weathercasting, ushering in the era of weather report as cocktail party. You could roll out of bed in the morning and count on her — or, more and more, someone like her on other stations, someone quick-witted, wholesome (but not too wholesome), naughty (but not too naughty), with sparkling eyes and a million-megawatt smile — to talk (or free-associate, since her prattle often takes on a life of its own) about wind velocities and high-pressure fronts. But now L.A.’s newest female weathercaster, KNBC’s Elita Loresca, who certainly has an FHM-approved body, is carving out a middle ground, with more modest outfits and a sweeter, less va-va-voom delivery — she is Mary Ann to Reynolds’ Ginger.

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