By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Mar 24, 2014 at 5:18 AM

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.

OMC: So I’m guessing that the watches and warnings still provide a challenge and a rush. 

BG: Absolutely. After all these years, yes. I would much rather be out in it. Like the floods that we had a few summers ago, those terrible floods, John (Malan) and I were in here watching the radar for hours and just watching the rain totals go up and up and up, and we see all this video coming in of all the flooding. By the time I was done with work, there was no flooding anywhere. It was like, "What's going on?"  That goes back to my storm-chasing days. I'd rather be out in it. I don't care if it's a blizzard or heavy rain. That's where I get my adrenaline rush.

OMC: What’s the craziest weather event that you've reported on or been a part of?

BG:  Well, the flooding was pretty impressive; we got eight inches of rain in an hour. I've covered hurricanes in Florida, and I have never seen that much rain in an hour. It just depends. The blizzard here a couple of years ago was intense. Tornado. I've seen asphalt sucked off of interstates in the panhandle of Texas covering tornadoes, so every element has its own little thing.

We got stuck in North Carolina for a week after a hurricane because you couldn't get out. The bridges were all washed out, so I was like, "I want to go home, but I can't unless I have a boat."

So I've seen a lot, but the floods were pretty amazing, how it just developed so fast and how much rain fell. That and even the Wheatland (near New Munster) area tornado. While it wasn't a significant tornado, that was a January tornado in Wisconsin, and it's extremely rare. It was 70 degrees that day, and all of a sudden, we get reports of tornadoes in Illinois knocking trains off of tracks. You're like this is something that's going to be rare and interesting.

OMC: What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about your profession?

BG: I just don't think people realize how complex it is. I get this all the time, "I don't need you guys. I just look at what's happening out of my window in the morning, and that's how I dress." You can go back to the Wheatland tornado. You wake up that morning, and it's 60 degrees in January. You're going to go wear shorts and a T-shirt, but by that night it was snowing. I don't think people really understand the complexity of it all.

I love going to schools, and seeing how much kids know. I don't remember having weather chapters like this when I was in school, but I think everybody should at least take one weather class just to see how complex it really is, especially in this part of the country.

I think people think, when we say, "This storm depends on the track," it’s a crutch, but it's true. If it moves 20 miles south or north, it could mean that you get one inch of snow or you get 10 inches of snow. Chicago, the other day, got seven inches of snow. We had absolutely nothing, so the tracking is very important.

OMC: What are you TV viewing habits?  Do you have a favorite show or a favorite thing that you stream?

BG:  Oh, we love "Chicago Fire." My wife's dad was a firefighter in New York City, so we like that. Not to push an NBC show or anything.  I loved "Seinfeld" back in the day. Loved "The Sopranos," but today, there's a lot of good shows out there, we like to watch "Duck Dynasty" with our kids because our kids think it's funny. That's about it. Our DVR is full all the time, but there's no time anymore. It's crazy.

OMC: Do you have a favorite restaurant or a favorite area or a favorite cuisine in and around Milwaukee?

BG:  I think Milwaukee's restaurants are all phenomenal. It doesn't matter if it's Botanas or Crazy Water. Milwaukee Street has all the great steak places or sushi places. We love sushi. There's just so much. When I moved here eight years ago, that's what I loved. It's not just the chain restaurants. There's a lot of "ma and pa" restaurants around here, good old-fashioned supper clubs. I love it. My favorite? It's hard to say. There's just so many. Oh, Maxie's. Love Maxie’s. I had to put that in there, or my wife would kill me. She loves her Southern food.

OMC: Tell us a little bit about your upcoming charity event, the bowling event, and how that started and what it's become.

BG: This is the third year. I've been involved with the MACC Fund since I moved back. It was something I really sought out. I love what the MACC Fund does. I met John Cary at an event, and they invited me to their annual MACC Fund Open, the golf outing at Tuckaway. And, so I just got to know John Cary and Jon McGlocklin very well.

What they do is incredible for kids, and I just kept telling them, "I want to do more," so then they asked me to be the emcee for the Bucks MACC Fund Game. Then they asked me to emcee this event, and I said, "I just want to do more."

With the help of my wife a couple years ago ... It seems like everybody's doing a golfing event. I love bowling. It's Wisconsin. I grew up in Wisconsin. I like bowling. So we said, "Let's do a bowling event," and never in my wildest dreams did I think it would take off like it did.

The first year, we were hoping we'd make seven grand, and we made $20,000 in a day in a little bowling alley. It has eight lanes, and we could easily move somewhere that has 20, 40, 50 lanes, but I don't want to. They treat us like family there. It's intimate. I feel like we could have conversations with everybody that's there helping us out. Instead of it just being an event, it's actually a fun day with friends, and we're raising a lot of money.

It's the donors. It's the restaurants that we were talking about, the hotels in the area, the stores in the area. I can walk in there, and they're willing to donate gift certificates or a night's stay at their hotel or whatever, and without that, this event is nothing. And then just the people. The Cedarburg and Grafton people and even people that come from around the area, but it's mainly in the Cedarburg/Grafton crowd. They just come out in droves to help, and it's mind-boggling. It blows you away. So we came up with the idea, but everybody else is making it what it is.

OMC: Where do you see your career, and maybe the profession and technology going?

BG: Well, I moved here hoping this would be where I … I mean, I was happy in the Twin Cities, and I'm ecstatic here. This is home, and so I moved here thinking this was my last spot. So if I spend the rest of my career here, I would be a very happy person. I have two children that love it here. They love the snow. My wife may not love the snow so much, but who does right now? But she loves this area, too. I've (even) converted her to a die-hard Packers fan. This is home for all of us, and I really don't want to leave. 

The path of this industry? That's the million-dollar question. The Internet has changed everything. We were told at a seminar years ago that the Internet's going to change everything, and it has, and I think even more so the smartphone.

Just in the last five years now of smartphones, it has completely changed television, and we just have to be smarter with it. I think TV, so far, is doing a good job with that, but that is the million-dollar question. Where are we going to go to keep up with the technology?

I think there will always be television, just for, like we were talking about, the personal touch. I think there will always be that. I think it just may change in the way its accessed and disseminated. It may not just be your standard television thing anymore. It is becoming live streaming, and we do that now with our news. It’s just going to become way more mobile than what it has been.

OMC: A final question that I ask of everyone is to define success.

BG: Wow. Happiness. Just making sure ... if everybody around me is happy. It's not about money. It's not about a position that you're in. I don't need this. I mean, I love it, but just as long as the people around me are happy and I feel like I've done my best to help others, that's success.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.