A Chat With Margaret Orr

The popular meteorologist talks weather, Twitter and getting recognized at the grocery store.

When I visit Margaret Orr, it’s the Monday following the weekend where Tropical Storm Karen posed a threat to the Gulf Coast then quickly dissipated. In fact, the crisp fall weather is perfect and Orr is in her garden, where each morning she likes to send dispatches from her popular Twitter account. In the course of her 30-plus years as meteorologist at WDSU, Orr has seen her fair share of inclement weather and she’s also become one of New Orleans’ most recognizable and beloved fixtures. As a quiet hurricane season nears its end, Orr – an avid painter, online shopper and lover of sci-fi and fantasy novels – and I chat at her Lake Vista home.

You’re very active on Twitter. I think it’s great. I start my morning out here on the porch with my coffee, and I’m looking at Twitter and tweeting the weather, the current conditions, the forecast. I’ve sent out over 39,000 tweets and I’ve got over 8,224 followers. What I like about it is I can send out a tornado warning or hurricane watch before I’m on the air, and it reaches people immediately. I subscribe to a service so that if I’m asleep, they’ll get warnings. It is the greatest way to quickly get information to the public, and it’s a sharing that takes place – I can get photographs of flooding; I can get photographs of a beautiful day. I get to know people; they get to know me. Because all of these people follow me, they send me information I can use on the air, and I send them information they can use to go about their daily lives and hopefully to keep them safe.

I started tweeting three to four years ago and I love it. My kids will go “Mom, can you talk?” and I’ll say, “No, I’m tweeting.”

What do you think is your role now that more people are turning to the Weather Channel app and things like that to check the weather?  I think I’m better. [The Weather Channel is] not here. They’re looking at models only; I’m looking at what’s happening. If you want New Orleans weather, you have to turn to a local person.

News people in this town have a celebrity status, especially meteorologists. Do people come up to you a lot? Oh sure. But I’m so regular. I go to all the different grocery stores – “Hey, Mawgrit!”

Sometimes they’re mad at me. One time a guy came up to me and started chewing me out about the fact that he had just poured concrete and it rained.

A lot of the women say, “You’re a lot thinner than I thought” – television adds weight to you. And one time I was at the beauty parlor and a guy came up to me and said, “You look a lot better on TV.” And I said, “Hello, I’m at the beauty parlor!” You get all kinds of things, but for the most part they’re wonderful. They ask, “What color red do you put in your hair? Where do you buy your clothes?” that kind of thing.

What about weather is attractive to you? My grandfather was a rancher, and he was always praying it would rain or praying it would stop. I’m not on TV for people liking me – I really am on TV because I want to keep people safe … and to be a friend. I had someone call me on Thanksgiving because I was working, and he said, “I want you to know that when I saw you on TV you gave me a lift. I was very depressed. I was invited different places and didn’t want to go, I had lost family. I was a very unhappy person, and you gave me hope. You made me think about the good things in life.”

I want people to be upbeat. I want them to think of the good things in life, so that’s why I’m there. I’m a mother, and I think that’s what moms do. [Mothers] just want people to be safe, to be happy, all of those things. I’m there to give them the information so they can go about their daily lives and do what they need to do. And when everything is hitting the fan, I’m there to keep them safe.

The truth is, people have got to be smart. If you see a thunderstorm developing, you need to get to safety. If you can hear thunder, you can be hit by lightning. Those are the things that drive me, because I know people who have died because of weather.

Were you always cautious with your children? Oh yeah, and they don’t always listen to me … I’ve always been cautious, because I’m more aware. Having been in news first, I’ve saw so many things happen. I saw two girls drown on the beach in Charleston, S.C., doing a beach cleanup story. So yes, I’m more cautious, and I drive [my children] nuts.

How long do you see yourself doing what you do? Termites ate our house, and it’s a relatively new house, so I’m still going to have to work a little while longer. But I love what I do, so I’m going to keep doing this.

True confession: My vice is clothes. It’s one more reason I’ll have to work a little while longer.

At a Glance

     Age:      “We don’t go into tha t.”     Profession:     Chi ef meteorologist, WDSU     Born/raised:     Uptown New Orleans    Resides:    Lake Vista    Famil  y:    Husband, Bill. Children, Kathleen, Alden and Grace .   Education:   L ouise S. McGehee  School, Louisiana State University and Mississippi State University   Favorite movie:   Pride and Prejudice (2005)  Favorite TV show:  “I really just watch   news and weather.”  Favorite book:  Diana Galbadon books, The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks, Enders Game by Orson Scott Card and many others. “If you saw my closet you would die. I have stacks and stacks of books.”   Favorite band/musician:  Irma Thomas Favorite hobby: Painting and gardening  Favorite vacation spot: Destin and New York