WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

WRAL Morning Weather: Trial by fire!

Posted September 24, 2008

"For today's performance, the role of 'Meteorologist' will be played by the understudy, Nate Johnson."

If you've ever been to a theatrical performance – on or off Broadway – you've probably heard similar words.  During the course of a play's run, actors are entitled to a day off or two every now and again, people get sick, things come up.  Whenever that happens, a role will be played by an understudy, someone who often works behind the scenes day-to-day but who is also tasked with knowing all the lines and directions for a given character. This is to ensure that the old adage, "the show must go on," is fulfilled. 

Much the same can be said for the WRAL Morning News, and there's a lot of "show" that has to "go on":

  • For starters, we actually do two weathercasts at the same time in the morning – one for viewers across most of the area, and another specifically for viewers in Fayetteville and the Sandhills. 
  • In addition to the four hours' worth of TV news and weather, we also provide weather forecasts for four radio stations Mix 101.5 and 99.9 The Fan in the Triangle, along with Foxy 99 and 96.5 The Drive in Fayetteville.
  • We record custom weather updates for our sister station, WILM in Wilmington, our Fayetteville viewers watching on cable, and for folks keeping up with the weather on their mobile phones using WRAL Wireless.
  • We also provide radio weather updates to the statewide North Carolina News Network three times per day, with two of those update cycles coming in the morning hours.
  • Last but certainly not least, we also provide weather content for WRAL.com; however, thanks to our technical wizards, that is a mostly automated process these days.

Needless to say, it's usually a two-person job on weekday mornings, and as of late, my role has been to cover the "Fayetteville splits," as well as the NCNN radio updates and forecasts for Foxy 99 and 96.5 The Drive.  That's what had me coming in around 2:30ish this morning, when I got a bit of a surprise: It was all on me today.

Our usual morning meteorologist, Elizabeth Gardner, had called in a little while earlier.  Normally, when someone critical to an operation calls in, you move toward calling in a replacement, and that's exactly what our crack staff set out to do – talk about that "3am phone call," right?  As you might suspect, good help is hard to find at that hour.

Enter the "understudy."  Normally, I work behind the scenes, helping to coordinate schedules and graphics, working with other divisions of the company to make sure we're serving them (and through them, you) as best we can, and doing battle with the occasional technical gremlin that rears its head.  But, it's part of my job to "know the lines" just in case there's a staffing emergency, like we had this morning.

A little about myself: I'm a North Carolina native, originally from Clemmons, a suburb of Winston-Salem.  I graduated more than a few years ago from NC State with degrees in meteorology and computer science.  After graduating, I moved to Abilene, Texas, where I was the chief meteorologist for KTXS-TV.  I spent the better part of six years keeping folks in the "Big Country" of Texas ahead of the wild Texas weather.  

After getting married to my wife, whom I met while in Abilene, I took a position with a company called Baron Services.  I worked to provide stations across the country – including WRAL – with reliable and innovative weather data products for use in tracking all kinds of weather, from everyday forecasts to severe weather and hurricanes.  I also worked with their radar division, doing training for dual-pol radar systems, such as our DUALDoppler500 system.  It was after one of those training trips here to WRAL that I decided to come home to North Carolina.

That was almost a year ago now, and it's been a fun ride so far. Interestingly, this is my second tour of duty here at the Big 5 – I was here as an intern and part-time radio meteorologist back in the late 1990s, including Hurricane Floyd and the big snowstorm of 2000.

Getting the call to perform on the big stage was certainly exciting, but like getting pushed into the swimming pool when you're not expecting it, it can be a bit nerve-wracking!  But, just like getting pushed in, you don't have much time to think about it – you've got to get on with the task of swimming, or else.  Four hours of morning news and weather is like that!

I've already gotten a number of great emails from some of you, and I appreciate all your kind words this morning.  I also have a GoLo profile, and I hope you'll stop by and say hello!


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  • erspade772 Sep 26, 2008

    Congrats Nate! I was good to see my fellow met. classmate, friend, and another familiar face on TV! I even had a teacher comment about it when I got to school. Congrats again and hope to see you more! :)

  • nsj Sep 25, 2008

    Thanks, all, for the very kind words. I enjoyed filling in -- let's do it again sometime!

  • softballmom Sep 24, 2008

    Nate, I was surprised to see you this morning on air, but I thought you did a great job!

  • tagncsu Sep 24, 2008

    Uh guys, you missed what Nate said in his post. He was a chief meteorologist in Abilene, TX for 6 years. He's spent PLENTY of time in front of the camera! I'm in PA, so I can't say I saw anything on there today, but at this point, Nate's certainly a seasoned professional. He just hasn't done it in a while. I hope you had fun doing it, Nate!

  • cuteboyd Sep 24, 2008

    Great job Nate! I saw you a few weeks ago covering the hurricane. I had no ideal you were new to the camera. I had no ideal because you were great this morning and I enjoyed listening to your weather report.

  • fishnett5977 Sep 24, 2008

    Nate, you did WONDERFUL!!! Being pushed in the "deep end" aint so bad if you know how to swim!!!lol You did a wonderful job - I know the other weather folks there and the morning crew appreciate your willingness to jump in and get the job done! Teamwork - that's what it is all about! Welcome - hope this isnt the last time we see you IN FRONT of the cameras!!!

  • jimperry Sep 24, 2008

    Nate - you did a great job this morning! I never would have thought this was your first gig in front of the camera. You were very polished and in command. Hope to see you on the big screen soon.

  • blytle Sep 24, 2008

    Wish I had seen it, but I'm not a morning TV person -- too busy trying to get to work by 7:30 am. So interesting to hear you're from Clemmons -- my husband is from there and he also we to school at NCSU, but I imagine is was a number of years prior to your being there!!!

  • 2thebeach Sep 24, 2008

    Thanks for letting us know. I cut on the TV this morning about 5am and thought I had missed something! Nice to meet you.

  • PAINFREE Sep 24, 2008

    You acquitted yourself very well, and since you are not inexperienced, that is not surprising. Having done such a good job today, I will bet you will be called on often. After all, you are understudying the best!