WEATH­ER­MAN ROBERT VAN WIN­KLE

RAIN OR SHINE, HE’S GOT YOUR BACK

RSWLiving - - Front Page - BY ED BRO­TAK

“Pretty cool!” is how Robert Van Win­kle, se­nior chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist for the NBC- 2 Weather Team, de­scribes his life. “I had no plan to come to Florida,” he says. “And now I’m in the best part of the state.”

With his trade­mark glasses, closely cut gray hair and a slight ath­letic build, Van Win­kle is eas­ily rec­og­niz­able. He wel­comes you with a ready smile and quickly en­gages you in con­ver­sa­tion. On the air, he is the con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional pro­vid­ing weather in­for­ma­tion that is pre­cise and easy to un­der­stand. Ob­vi­ously, Van Win­kle likes people and likes what he does.

The me­te­o­rol­o­gist was born and raised a far dis­tance from Florida, Ari­zona to be ex­act. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing high school in Prescott, he tried col­lege for a year but de­cided that was not the best op­tion for him at the time. So in 1976, he joined the Navy, which of­fered him a wide choice of fields, in­clud­ing me­te­o­rol­ogy. “I al­ways had an in­ter­est in the weather,” Van Win­kle says.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing his class­room stud­ies state­side, he was as­signed to the air­craft car­rier USS Nimitz, at that time sta­tioned in the Mediter­ranean, to com­plete his train­ing. But when the

WITH OUT­DOOR RE­CRE­ATION BE­ING A MA­JOR REA­SON TO VISIT SOUTH­WEST FLORIDA, AC­CU­RATE WEATHER FORE­CASTS ARE ES­SEN­TIAL. VAN WIN­KLE AND HIS TEAM ARE A TRUSTED SOURCE OF WEATHER IN­FOR­MA­TION AND A MA­JOR PART OF THE EVENING NEWS­CAST.

1979 Ira­nian hostage cri­sis oc­curred, the Nimitz was quickly de­ployed to the Per­sian Gulf. Putting it into high gear, Van Win­kle fin­ished one year of train­ing in two months and took charge of the ship’s weather cen­ter. For his great work, he was awarded the pres­ti­gious Navy Achieve­ment Medal.

Be­sides mak­ing the weather fore­casts, Van Win­kle got his first taste of broad­cast­ing. The Nimitz had its own on­board TV broad­cast and he was the weath­er­man. “The sailors knew me from the show and would come up to me and ask, ‘ What’s the weather like in Cincin­nati?’ The next show I’d make a point of men­tion­ing Cincin­nati. I was con­nect­ing with my au­di­ence,” he says.

Fin­ish­ing his duty with the Navy, Van Win­kle re­turned to Ari­zona to con­tinue his stud­ies at the univer­sity. He grad­u­ated Summa Cum Laude in 1984 with a B. A. in Ger­man and busi­ness. He had no plans to pur­sue me­te­o­rol­ogy or TV weather. Then he came across an ad for a weath­er­man with KUSK- TV, a very small sta­tion in Prescott. Van Win­kle ap­plied and was hired. He stayed there for two years, be­fore he heard about an­other op­por­tu­nity. WVIR- TV in Char­lottesville, Va., was look­ing to es­tab­lish a weather cen­ter. He got the job and be­came chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist at WVIR, a po­si­tion he held for 17 years.

But in 2003, things were chang­ing in Van Win­kle’s life, and he felt the need to move on. It just so hap­pened that WVIR’s sis­ter sta­tion, WBBH- TV in Fort My­ers, was look­ing for a chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist. And so, Van Win­kle came to Florida. He

THE NBC- 2 WEATHER TEAM IS CRED­ITED WITH BE­ING THE FIRST TO

DE­TECT THE SUB­TLE CHANGE IN CHARLEY’S TRACK, WHICH WOULD BRING THE STORM CRASH­ING ASHORE JUST NORTH OF FORT MY­ERS. THIS ALERT GAVE THE RES­I­DENTS AN EX­TRA FEW HOURS TO PRE­PARE.

hadn’t been here a whole year when one of the most sig­nif­i­cant weather events to ever oc­cur in South­west Florida hap­pened: Hur­ri­cane Charley! Van Win­kle put his Navy fore­cast­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to good use. The NBC- 2 Weather Team is cred­ited with be­ing the first to de­tect the sub­tle change in Charley’s track, which would bring the storm crash­ing ashore just north of Fort My­ers. This alert gave the res­i­dents an ex­tra few hours to pre­pare.

About a year later in Oc­to­ber of 2005, Van Win­kle once again helped view­ers through a hur­ri­cane. He was on the air for 24 straight hours as Hur­ri­cane Wilma crossed the coast south of Marco Is­land.

Van Win­kle, who holds the Seal of Ap­proval from the Na­tional Weather As­so­ci­a­tion, loves the chal­lenge of weather fore­cast­ing. “Dif­fer­ent things hap­pen ev­ery day,” he says, “The weather is never ex­actly the same.” As se­nior chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist at NBC- 2, he heads a staff of six, which in­cludes chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist Ha­ley Webb, me­te­o­rol­o­gist and hur­ri­cane ex­pert Jim Reif and me­te­o­rol­o­gists Ja­son Dun­ning, Kira Miner and David Heckard. They uti­lize the lat­est tech­nol­ogy to pro­vide ac­cu­rate fore­casts and timely weather warn­ings. The sta­tion’s Your First Alert Dop­pler Zoom cus­tom­ized radar al­lows them to pin­point storm lo­ca­tions and give pre­cise short- term fore­casts of storm move­ment.

With out­door re­cre­ation be­ing a ma­jor rea­son to visit South­west Florida, ac­cu­rate weather fore­casts are es­sen­tial. Van Win­kle and his team are a trusted source of weather in­for­ma­tion and a ma­jor part of the evening news­cast. Au­drey Ste­wart of Ad­ven­tures in Par­adise, a 30- year- old tour­ing and fish­ing busi­ness on Sani­bel, says, “We ac­tu­ally use their First Alert Dop­pler Zoom Radar nearly ev­ery day, es­pe­cially dur­ing the sum­mer. In the kind of busi­ness we are in, when we need to see where the rain is and where it’s go­ing, and in an up- to- date man­ner, we rely on NBC- 2. We feel it’s the most ac­cu­rate.”

Be­fore tak­ing people out for fish­ing, tour­ing or shelling, Capt. Chris Gillespie of Bear Char­ters on Sani­bel turns to NBC2 Weather as well. In terms of se­vere weather, Gillespie says, “They’re spot on. Their Dop­pler radar is bar none the best. Not only does it show where storms are but also where they will move to.” Thun­der­storm fore­cast­ing is tricky, but as for hur­ri­canes, Van Win­kle says they are the hard­est to fore­cast. “Charley was a trial by fire,” he re­calls. “We had the right radar at the right time.”

As for fa­vorite pas­times, Van Win­kle col­lects and turns old bird houses, cigar boxes and other such items into dec­o­ra­tive home ac­ces­sories. One day in a small shop, he saw an old bird house that had been newly painted as a dec­o­ra­tion and thought, “I can do that.” His cre­ations are for sale at The Open Door Shoppes on Hendry Street in Fort My­ers. When it comes to en­joy­ing the weather, Van Win­kle heads to Sani­bel. “I love the beach,” he says, “Tar­pon Bay, Bow­man Beach, the Light­house Beach. They’re all great.”

As for his move to the Sun­shine State, Van Win­kle sums it up, “I’ve been lucky. Things turned out ab­so­lutely great!”

Se­nior chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist Robert Van Win­kle of the NBC- 2 Weather Team in Fort My­ers tracks the weather be­fore go­ing on the air.

Van Win­kle’s first ex­pe­ri­ence with Florida’s wild trop­i­cal storms was track­ing Hur­ri­cane Charley, a cat­e­gory 4 with 150 mph winds, when it hit the South­west coast in 2004.

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