Milwaukee Talks: WTMJ-4 Meteorologist Brian Gotter
Brian Gotter joined WTMJ-TV's "Storm Team" in October 2006 as the midday and early evening meteorologist.
He's a Wisconsin guy, who via a childhood move to Oklahoma gained a love for weather, its changes and technology. Forecasting in the Midwest brings challenges for Gotter and all meteorologists but it helps brings out Gotter's personality, passion and the adrenaline rush that watches, weather events and safety concerns can bring.
Focused on community and family, Gotter hosts an annual bowling event that has become a fixture in his hometown of Grafton and a part of his mantra to give back and educate.
He won Emmy awards for "Best Meteorologist in the Midwest" in 2009 and 2010, and we recently talked about his profession, the polar vortex, his TV and dining habits and much more.
OnMilwaukee: In terms that our readers can understand, I need a layman's explanation of the polar vortex.
Brian Gotter: That's how we're starting? The polar vortex is basically a large air mass that sits above the surface. It's not a surface thing. It's in the upper levels, and it just gets colder and colder as the winter gets on. It exists every single day of the year in the Arctic and in the Antarctic, so it's not just like something that just ...
OMC: Came out of nowhere?
BG: Right. The media learned a new word this year, and we made fun of them on the news ... because it's always there. It just wasn't created. I think the general public thinks that we just make up some new words ... but it sits up there all year long. It's cold air. In the winter, it gets more intense and it gets large. Typically, we'll get one or two tastes of it here with a night that's 5-10 below, and then it lasts a day or two and it's done. This year (it) decided (to stay longer). The jet stream dipped to the deep south, so it just allowed all that cold air to spill to us day after day after day.
OMC: So will it extend through spring and summer then?
BG: Well, the polar vortex has basically gone back up. It's back to where it belongs. Now, we're just getting our typical little cold snaps. What we needed was California to get rain. They had gone like six months without a drop of rain. They finally got rain a couple weeks ago, and that has changed the patterns, so we're actually getting back to our normal March ... we call it (the) roller coaster. Fifty-degree day today, 20 on Sunday – but we're getting back to a more normal pattern. But the polar vortex is back to where it belongs. John Malan finally said "go back up."
OMC: Give us the Brian Gotter story – where you grew up, where you came from, went to school.
BG: I was born in Green Bay, so I'm a Wisconsin kid. My mom's from Wisconsin Rapids. My dad's from the Sheboygan area, so I grew up in Fond du Lac. My dad worked for Mercury Marine, so the summer before my senior year in high school, we moved to Oklahoma. His job was transferred there. Since I was down there, I could either go (back home) to Madison or to Oklahoma for college for meteorology, probably the two best schools. I got into Oklahoma. A great experience. I loved every second of it. I got to storm-chase there and all that stuff for five years.
I got my first job ... kind of, in Wausau, so I got to come back home. I had a long internship down there, but my first true job was in Wausau the year that the Packers won the Super Bowl, so what a great time to come back home. Spent a year there (Wausau) and then went to Jacksonville, Fla., for five years. That's where I met my wife. She must love me because I moved her from there to Minneapolis for four years.
I thought I would spend the rest of my career (in Minneapolis). I was really happy. But, I got a call almost eight years ago now from TMJ, a station I grew up watching. "We're looking for a meteorologist. Are you interested?" I said, "I have to go just to see," and almost eight years later, here I am and loving every second of it.
OMC: Was it your time in Oklahoma that forged the meteorological future? Where did the passion begin?
BG: I always loved weather as a kid, and I realized as I would send my grandmother (who went to Florida every winter) letters, back in the day of letters, saying, "We woke up this morning to so much snow. It was this cold." I was giving her weather reports, and she thought it was pretty funny a few years ago to share those with me.
I actually was going to be a pilot. I loved flying. I had quite a few flying hours, and it involves a lot of weather. But, I decided I didn't want to be a pilot flying around all the time.
With my love for weather, I was going to be a professor and research weather but then I got an internship at a TV station just because I thought the morning guy there was awesome. I just wanted to meet him. Star struck, I guess. He put me in front of the camera to practice. I was shy, believe it or not, and quiet, and here I am 18 years later and my mom still shakes her head saying, "How's my shy little kid on TV talking to all these people about weather and having fun doing it?"
I remember teachers would say we'd have an oral report at the end of the semester, and I would just be like, "Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh, what am I going to do?"
So weather was just the obvious way to go. I loved it when I was flying and never thought I would be on TV. Never.
OMC: What are the differentiators when it comes to TV weather? Obviously, now everyone can get weather anywhere anytime. What's the TV weather difference?
BG: It has personality for one. That's the big thing. Number two, I think it adds experience. You can go on any of those apps or any website, and it'll give you the forecast. It's at the touch of a button now.
We all get the same information. All the other stations, everybody gets the same stuff. It's just how you interpret it, and so I could be saying today was going to be 55, where the other station says it's going to be 40 or we're going to have snow. It just depends on how you interpret it, whereas those computer models you're getting on your phones or your computers, it's just really generic.
We live next to a lake that computer models really can't recognize, so like the other day, a computer model was saying we were going to be 50-some degrees and with a northeast wind. But, the lake is ice filled. That's not going to happen. So take that with a grain of salt ...
But they're (models) are all good. You're going to be right most of the time, but I think those are the ones that give us the bad rap that we're always wrong, unfortunately. We take a lot of pride, and we're not always right, but you can't be. It's an inexact science. We're predicting the future of the atmosphere. I think that's what gives us the bad rap a lot of times, like, "Oh, I saw this person says six inches of snow."
There's a really big human element, and I think we spend most of the time justifying our forecast to the public, even in our newsroom. I mean, "You guys said it was going to be three to six, and we got two and a half." Oh, we were close to three, but everybody hears the six.
The technology is all the same. I mean, there's only two or three companies that really give you the technology for putting this stuff on air, but you have to be really good at what you do to work here.
Not just in Milwaukee. I mean in the Midwest. Look at this. It's 50 today (Friday, March 15). It's going to be 20 on Sunday (March 16). Then we're looking at freezing rain and rain or snow on Tuesday and Wednesday. It changes constantly. I worked in Florida for five years, and beyond the hurricane forecasts, it's pretty boring. I mean 95, humid, afternoon shower, back to you. It's just like San Diego, sunny and 70.
While it's probably a great job and it's laid back, I mean, if you're a true weather junkie like myself, this is the place to be, anywhere in the Midwest, but especially here with the lake. The lake makes the forecast so much different, even compared to the Twin Cities. It could be 35 degrees here at the station while Kaukauna could be 70. It's awesome.
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