WEATHERMAN ROBERT VAN WINKLE
RAIN OR SHINE, HE’S GOT YOUR BACK
“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.