PERSONA: Bob Breck

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow – though maybe a hurricane named Katrina – can keep Bob Breck from his appointed rounds of forecasting the weather to New Orleanians. In fact, Breck and anchor John Snell had to be taken off the air and from the WVUE studio on S. Jefferson Davis Parkway by sheriffs the night the hurricane hit. They set up shop again in the office of the late Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee, then the station broadcast from Mobile, Ala., for three months.

Breck started his career in Tampa, Fla. – he had been rejected by 33 stations (one reason was because he looked too young) before Roy Leep, the station’s general manager, took a chance on him. Breck’s next stop was Dayton, Ohio, then he and his family packed up and arrived in New Orleans in 1978.

The date of April 3, 2008, will mark the official 30th anniversary of Breck’s first on-air appearance as a meteorologist in New Orleans. Through the years – working for just one station, a feat not repeated by any other meteorologist in the city – Breck has been through six owners, many general managers and news directors and in the double digits with anchor teams. Breck says as a result he’s “the original ‘Survivor.’” He has had offers from other stations through the years but why “be a small fish in a big pond, when I can be a big fish in a small pond?” he asks.
What keeps him at it? Read on. Because as we all know, watching weather in New Orleans, next to Mardi Gras, is a time-honored tradition. And it’s one that keeps on challenging meteorologists such as Breck.

Age: 60 Job: Chief meteorologist for WVUE-TV, Fox 8 Family: Wife, Brenda Breck; Three sons from first wife, the late Paula Breck: Rob, Ryan and Justin.

Two dogs: Zack, a Scottie (Scottish terrier); and Zoe, a Westie (West Highland terrier) Resides: Metairie Grew up: Hammond, Ind. (18 miles from downtown Chicago)

Education: Bachelor of Science in meteorology and oceanography from University of Michigan

Favorite book: I am currently reading Cool It, about the doom and gloom predictions about global warming. The writer is saying for everyone to “cool it,” as in calm down. The other book I’m reading is Impact of Humans on Weather and Climate.

Favorite movie: I like Jack Nicholson. I enjoyed seeing him in Something’s Got to Give and The Bucket List.

Favorite TV show: I don’t get to watch TV that much.

Favorite restaurant: Commander’s Palace

Favorite food: Charbroiled oysters from Drago’s [His love for these oysters are so well known, that for his 60th birthday the WVUE staff got him a gift certificate just for that.] Hobbies: Fishing and golfing [Bob shoots in the 90s and 100s, though he doesn’t play enough for a handicap. But one day he shot a memorable round of 79 at Chateau Country Club.]

So I’m nosing around your very high-tech studio (the meteorologists have their own studio within the WVUE office) and came upon each day’s weather handwritten – in pencil – on a desk calendar. It seems very old school. I kept one for every year that I worked and I stored them in my office. Before Katrina, if you asked me what day the May flood was in 1995, I could’ve gone back to that year’s calendar and found it out – whether it was a Wednesday or Thursday, as well as see what else was going on with the weather that week. I lost everything from the past 30 years – even my original audition tape – when the WVUE offices flooded.

Why have you stayed at WVUE for so long? My viewers are what have kept me here. If I can quote anyone, it would be Sally Field when she accepted the Oscar for Norma Rae –  “You like me. You really like me!”

When I came to New Orleans in 1978, TV weather was very different. When I started I brought in chromaimaging (the blue or green screen meteorologists stand in front of that allows for multiple images throughout the broadcast) and color. I was flamboyant, different … and little.

What has changed the most over the past 30 years? Forecasting the weather has become more accurate because we get better information from the computers – the programs have improved.

How did the station become branded as  “Your Weather Authority”? A previous general manager said that because my research into weather was so strong, he wanted to brand the station around weather. Hence WVUE has been “Your Weather Authority” since the early 2000s.

When do you hear from viewers? When the weather is good, I don’t hear from them. When it’s bad I do – or even more so when they don’t get the message that there will be bad weather and then proceed like it will be good.

What’s your opinion about global warming? I believe we’re in a warming cycle, that it’s not because of too much carbon dioxide as Al Gore would like you to believe. There’s an equal amount of people who believe the Earth is in a warming cycle as a result of changing ocean currents in response to the energy coming from the sun.

Do you think New Orleanians learned a lesson about evacuating in time for a hurricane after what happened with Katrina? People base their decisions on perception. That’s my responsibility – to get the information from the National Hurricane Center, then tell viewers what’s going on so they can make an informed opinion. I’m sure there will be people who won’t evacuate but I can only do so much.

Weather here in south Louisiana is, to say the least, interesting. Is there any place in the U.S. that you think has “boring” weather? Every place is unique but I would have to admit that the weather in Arizona, Los Angeles and San Francisco would be boring, because it’s almost four to six months of the same weather every day.

Your wife Paula Breck passed away in 2002 due to a blood clot after surgery. This tragedy has led you on a mission: Raising awareness about DVT/PE. What is that and what are you doing? DVT is the type of clot; PE stands for pulmonary embolism. Paula broke her ankle and had to have surgery on it. While the surgery to repair her ankle went fine, the doctor missed the warning signs of a blood clot, even though her family had a history of blood clots.

Soon after she passed away, hospitals changed their standards of protocol for when a person goes into surgery to include finding out about history such as my Paula’s.
Since then I’ve given presentations about DVT/PE, and on March 5 at Touro Infirmary I’ll give another presentation, which is open to the public, about this. I think it’s a problem that has been under diagnosed – when people pass away, it’s blamed on something else, such as a heart attack, when there’s a good chance it could be DVT/PE. The only way you can find out is if you do an autopsy.

Will New Orleans Magazine be interviewing you for your 40th anniversary as a meteorologist at WVUE? No. I want to one day have the time to travel with my wife and do other things. I would like to go to Europe, Wine Country in California with Brenda (we’ve been there before but not together) and go back to Maui, where Brenda and I went on our honeymoon. Though I wouldn’t mind being a hurricane advisor after I retire.

True Confession: I watch a lot of golf on TV and all I ever dream of is to play in the PGA Tour. But knowing that I can never do that, I would like to get a hole-in-one.
You can see Bob Breck on the 5, 5:30 and 9 p.m. programs on WVUE-TV, Fox 8, and hear him on afternoon radio forecasts for 99.5FM.

Breck also has a blog: http://bobbreck.blogspot.com.

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