When it comes to making small talk, Milwaukeeans have a handful of tried and true topics in the gift of gab grab bag.
The Brewers, Brett Favre, and, of course, the weather.
Ever since he was a kid growing up near St. Louis, Mark Baden has loved talking about the weather -- so much so that he made it his profession. Baden, 38, is in his 12th year at WISN-TV (Channel 12), where he is chief meteorologist.
OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Baden recently to talk about his career, his education, an upcoming charity golf event and, of course, the weather.
OnMilwaukee.com: Give us the Mark Baden story. How did you get to be chief meteorologist at Channel 12?
Mark Baden: I'll give you the dorky version. My interest in weather started when I was in second grade when I saw lightning strike a tree.
I grew up in St. Louis. I was a Cardinals fan, but I've changed. I still love the Cardinals, but the Brewers are ahead.
I worked in four other markets before I started here on March 17 -- St. Patrick's Day -- of 1997. That's 12 years I've been in Milwaukee, which is unbelievable.
OMC: It seems like this would be a pretty good market to do weather, as opposed to a place like Phoenix, where it's 110 degrees every day.
MB: (Milwaukee) is a fantastic place for weather, because every day is different. Phoenix is the worst place I can ever imagine working as a meteorologist. Every day would be the same.
OMC: They still devote a couple minutes to it every newscast. You'd think they could just say, "It's gonna be hot again" and be done with it.
MB: They show more of the nation for people in places like Phoenix and Los Angeles. There are so many transplants that want to know what's going on elsewhere. Around here, we focus in a lot more on the "here" -- just Southeastern Wisconsin.
OMC: That leads to a question -- what has kept you in Milwaukee? Surely, you've had opportunities to consider moving to a bigger market ...
MB: I had five jobs in five years (before coming to Milwaukee). Then, I got here and started to raise a family and realized there are more important things than moving on to the next market. I've got three daughters and a beautiful wife. We like it here.
OMC: Let's get back to the weather. Where did you go to college?
MB: I went to Western Illinois. The Fighting Leathernecks.
OMC: When I was in college, I took a one-credit class called "Thunderstorms and Tornadoes," or something like that, taught by a local TV meteorologist. Like a lot of people, I thought it was going to be an easy "A" and it ended up being one of the harder classes I had that semester. I know you teach a course at Concordia University. What's the deal?
MB: People don't realize, and it sounds like I'm just tooting my own horn, but a meteorology degree is one of the hardest degrees to actually get as a bachelor's. There is lots and lots and lots of math and tons and tons of physics. It would bore most people to tears.
Now, do I use much of that all? Truth be told, no. I love computers. They take care of business.
MB: It's night and day. When I started at the college station I worked for, we were still drawing on the maps -- hand drawing. Then, we moved to a rudimentary computer system that sort of put a show on. The Internet does everything now.
We used to have these gigantic fax machines that would send down about 25 weather maps a day and that's how we did our forecasts. Now, I probably look at close to 300-400 different maps a day. That doesn't necessarily meant that the forecast is going to be more accurate, but I have a lot more to look at.
As computer technology and the speed of computers increases, it does make forecasting for things like the lake breeze and the lake effect snows much better. Of course, let's not remember what happened at the airport when they had 14 1/2 inches of snow, and I forecast two.
OMC: Just a minor mistake ...
MB: It was just a little apostrophe. One to two inches, one to two feet.
OMC: What kind of relationship do you have with your competitors at the other stations around town?
MB: It's fisticuffs. It's terrible (laughs). It's actually very nice to be in a market where everybody gets along. I don't have any stories. I was just at a conference with John Malan (from Channel 4). We get along really well. (Former Channel 4 veterans) Paul Joseph and Jim Ott were really nice to me, too. I still talk to Jim once in awhile. I was the kid when I came in here. There are so many guys that have a lot more experience. I just need to move those guys along and just go in a nice retirement plan.
OMC: Do you check out the competition and scoff and say, "I said chance of rain 75 percent; he only had 60?"
MB: Not on a daily basis, but (once in a while), especially for snow. Snow is always the thing that really differentiates you from anyone because that forecast is usually different on every station. It's the hardest forecast that we have -- a snow forecast.
OMC: Hopefully, it won't snow on the golf outing that you and Channel 12 sports director Dan Needles are hosting next week at Tripoli Country Club. Can you tell me about that?
MB: The Neighborhood House has been around 75 or 80 years. It started as a transitional living facility for people coming in from other countries. Right now, it has really changed more into helping disadvantaged people in the inner city with day care. They are on Richardson Place, right off of 27th Street. It's an interesting place and they're doing great work there. I hope it continues to get bigger and better every years.
OMC: Do you and Dan get to play?
MB: Dan and I stay on one hole the whole day, a little par-3 over the water. We donate a lot of balls to the water, but that's the only way to host a golf outing. If anybody has a better idea how to host an outing and make sure you get to interact with everyone, they should give us a call.
OMC: Do you have any hobbies besides golf?
MB: My favorite hobby is my collection of antique thermometers and barometers. This is geeky, I know. I was really into it for a while. We'd go to a lot of antique stores.
OMC: I've heard that people on the street will thank you when the weather is good and blame you when it's not. Is that true?
MB: It's God when the weather is good. It's me when the it's bad.
Occasionally, people do thank you for the nice weather, as though I had anything to do with it. And, you get really nasty e-mails when the weather is bad, like I'm actually controlling it. Like I can put anything I want in the seven-day (forecast), and I'm sure that's exactly what's going to happen.
OMC: Does that ever get old?
MB: It's fun. People always ask me, "Does that ever get tiring? Do you get tired of hearing that?" It hasn't happened yet. If it ever does, I guess it's time for me to change occupations.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.