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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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Page 6 of 6

Ad-libbing funny stuff is a running theme in Thompson’s weather career. There was the Memorial Day he predicted it would be sunny. It rained, and he felt so bad about it he asked an old lady to punch him in the arm on camera for the entire broadcast. (She did.)

People on the street used to casually ask him how come it’s always so warm in the Valley and so cool at the coast? “Well, the topography of California is such that the warmer air is locked into the Valley locations, whereas the sea breeze and marine influences are limited to the coastal strip, depending on the pressure changes, you know, inland and offshore, which is what drives those wind velocities, and that’s a dynamic that’s ultimately going to influence whether or not that sea breeze makes it into the inland valleys,” he’d answer, before he realized that asking about the weather was really people’s way of saying “hi.”

They’d stare at him for a bit. “Dude,” they’d say, “I don’t want to ask you anything ever again.”

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

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Thompson is not the swashbuckling storm-chasing weather guy, or the cerebral scientific weather guy (though he has a background in philosophy and biology and is plenty smart). He’s the everyday Joe of the weather trade, the guy you’re happy you sat next to at a sports bar, who happens to know a thing or two about monsoons. There are weather guys, he says, like one of his friends at the Weather Channel, who love to be out in hurricanes. “You’ll see him buttoned up in hat and gear, and he’ll be out there. That to me isn’t ‘doing the weather’ anymore. You’re not a weather guy, you’re a reporter. That’s what reporters do. You’re out there giving a sense of the moment. It’s a different job. Weather guys tend to be very one-dimensional in terms of the science,” he says in the deep, beefy radio voice discerning viewers may recognize from American Idol or When Good Pets Go Bad.

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“What do you mean by one-dimensional?” I ask.

“I mean, we’re kind of thought of as nerds, weather guys, are. There’s sort of a wonkish aspect to it all.”

The L.A. weather guy is such a cliché, in fact, that it’s an embarrassing job for him at times.

“It makes me reflexively apologetic,” he says. “It’s like, ‘What, you work 30 seconds a day? It’s gonna be sunny and 72 with some morning fog?’”

When he did the weather in Denver, by contrast, every day was rock and roll — intense thunderstorms and tornadoes swarming in the afternoon. That was not fun. Thompson has deep respect for the L.A. cliché and will gladly live it any day.

Sometimes he’ll notice other weather guys just reading the temperatures off the board. That guy’s just phoning it in, Thompson will think. “I will never phone it in, ever. That would be an insult to the audience. I could read the tickertape or wire copy, but if I’m gonna do that, they might as well just read it themselves. I’m distilling it, giving it a little bit of panache. Showmanship is important, but at the same time you don’t want to be David Copperfield out there or court jester.”

One of his goals is to be accessible to as many people as possible. “That’s why I like to keep it all pretty . . . ”

Keep it real?

“Keep it real, baby! I like to talk on the street. I like to lay down the knowledge every night.”

“Did you want to be a weather guy when you were a kid?” Something ineffably charming, energetic, personable and unpretentious about him makes me wonder. He’s been asking me just as many questions as I’ve been asking him.

He shakes his head. “I just wanted the bus to come, I was freezing my butt off.”

Reach the writer at galimurung@laweekly.com

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