By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 17, 2017 at 9:04 AM

Last week, we sat down with WISN meteorologist Jeremy Nelson for a Milwaukee Talks interview as he prepared to say goodbye to Brew City.

After more than seven years on the air in Milwaukee – plus more time in TV in Madison, where he graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Nelson's last day on air here is Friday, before he leaves for a job as chief meteorologist at Channel 12's sister station WJCL in Savannah, Georgia.

We asked him about his path to meteorology, living in Milwaukee and his upcoming move. Enjoy this Milwaukee Talks with departing WISN-TV weatherman Jeremy Nelson.

OnMilwaukee: When I asked you about doing this, you didn't really have any news to share that I knew about.

Jeremy Nelson: Right, I was delaying, delaying, delaying a little bit, getting back to you because I knew, but I was like, "Welllll ... "

Did they know yet here (at WISN)?

Yeah, my move down there was within the company. Everything's great.

Why Savannah, Georgia?

I was first introduced to the city because in early October, when Hurricane Matthew occurred, I went down, along with some other people within the company, to help our stations in the Southeast. So I was at WESH, our affiliate in Orlando, for two days and then I was in Savannah for five days.

Is that common to sort of share with each other in an emergency?

Sometimes, yeah. I know a couple of reporters went for the company when the Pulse nightclub shooting happened in Orlando. There’s been big tornadoes over the years in Oklahoma, sometimes one or two people, but there were so many stations that were impacted by the hurricane. Our station in Greenville, South Carolina, sent a helicopter afterward to Savannah that they were able to use. So it was great that they were able to pull all the resources. When I was in Savannah, there was about 19 other people, from engineers to producers, web staff, reporters, meteorologists.

So even though the trees were swaying and the rain was coming down, you fell in love with Savannah?

Yeah, it’s really a beautiful historical city, even though they were kind of in semi-crisis mode. They had a curfew three of the nights I was there where you couldn't be out after, I think it was 9 or 10 p.m. So, all the streets had to be clear because there were still lots of power outages. There were trees down everywhere, and they would serve that time overnight to help clean up.

Had you had any connection before that?

That was my first trip down there. I’ve travelled quite a bit, but that was my first extended time down in that area

I assume it was probably a combination of things, but did you go there for the job or for the location, or a little bit of both, because you’re not chief meteorologist here?

Certainly, one of my goals has been to be a chief meteorologist. That was some part of why I came into this company ... down the road, that would be certainly one of my goals. And it was great to stay within the company, because I think Hearst just has a long-standing tradition of good journalism and caring about employees. They don’t just say that, they actually show it.

What’s the difference between meteorologist and chief meteorologist? Do you get a blazer or something?

(Laughs) I don’t know. When I worked in Kansas City, it was explained to me probably the best. It’s like whoever is working that shift, whether it’s weekend mornings, weekend nights, weekday mornings, weekday evenings, the person that’s there at the time, you’re basically the chief because if something’s going on, you have to be able to handle it. That's why it’s been great being here. I mean we’ve had very talented meteorologists on staff over the seven years I’ve been here. Two of them have been two of the longest standing meteorologists in the city.

Well, now with John Malan retiring, that moves them further up the ladder.

Yeah, it does. I mean Mark (Baden) and Sally (Severson) really have been – now with some of the recent retirements, so coming up with John, and also Vince Condella – they’re some of the senior people on the market.

Was the response here what you expected when you made the announcement? Did you hear from viewers?

I’m on social media all the time, so once they announced it here then I put out some Facebook posts and stuff like that. Sometimes it’s like you do things in your job and you connect with people and they’re always out there. But sometimes if it’s a big weather event you hear from them, or this time, it’s a career/life change and, yeah, the support was tremendous. They were like, "Oh, can still do long-range forecasting? Is that going to go away?" I was like, "Well, I’m pretty easy to reach."

But you will be focused presumably on a different area.

Right, but yeah, I mean if the weather is quiet down there and someone has a question, I can certainly help them out. It’s like now, if people are travelling to Florida or they go on vacation, they may send us a question or an email or social media and say, "Hey, going here this week. What’s it going to be like," and we help them out.

Likely there will be somebody here who will do a long term forecast once you’re gone.

Yeah, hopefully. 

I think that work doesn't just go away, does it?

(Laughs) No, I don’t think so. No, I mean everyone in this business, meteorologists certainly have things they’re really strong with and passionate about. I would say being on social media, blogging, long-range forecasting certainly were things I was really passionate about. Also, I try to go out to as many schools as possible, connect with kids. I have two of my own so I know how important it is.

How long have you been doing that? How did it start?

I’ve been doing weather talks pretty much any job I’ve had in TV, but the school shoutouts, that was something that someone came up with here. We were just talking about it, and we were like, "Well, let’s give it a try." I was more than happy to take that on. Each year, I bet I average about at least 4,500 or more kids that are in the shoutouts.

That's incredible, isn’t it?

Yeah, and the common thing we find is when you go to these schools they are so happy to have positive news and get the kids on, and they get a kick out of it.

I go to schools a bit and I have to say that the energy when you go into the schools – it doesn’t matter where they are, who the students are – there’s just always this really exciting atmosphere in a school, I think.

Right, in this day and age with social media, I mean kids can almost be their own stars on a daily basis, if they’ve gotten their parents’ permission, if they have Instagram or do Facebook live or something. But there’s still something about it when they’re like, "I’m going to be on TV," that they get really excited about.

Oh yeah, I imagine they’re all telling everybody else about it.

Oh yeah, I get responses from the teacher to say, "Oh my gosh, the whole day, that's all they’ve talked about."

OK, so maybe this is sort of a bad time now to have you introduce yourself to Milwaukee, but for people who don’t know, tell us a little bit about where you grew up and how you got into meteorology.

Originally, and I haven’t lived there in a really long time, but originally from Minnesota. So I grew up there, and then I went to college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. That's where I got my degree. I’ve worked in Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas City. It was one of those years where I lived Kansas, worked in Missouri, type if thing. It’s just cut in half, the city, right down the state line.

Were you in Kansas City right before here?

Yeah. I also worked in Madison for five years, too, after college.

Were you a weather geek kid?

Yeah, I was always pretty fascinated with the weather. I kind of knew early on … That's a lot of people that are meteorologists or get into a weather field; they’re kind of hooked early.

Is the TV meteorologist a dream that kids have, or do you come to that later?

I don’t (think so) necessarily. I think that more happened along the way. It was more I loved to forecast the weather. I do that as a challenge because it’s something different. Whether you’re here and there’s four distinct seasons, or if you’re somewhere, like some people think, "Oh, in Phoenix, that must be easy every day." Well, they get a monsoon season. They get changes. Even a few-degree difference here and there can impact people.

Then the challenge I guess is making that interesting. If the only difference is few degrees here and there every day then how do you make that interesting every day?

(Laughs) Yeah, I mean there are obviously some locations that are more interesting than others but, like I saw when I was in Savannah, hurricanes can be absolutely life-changing to huge areas over a lot of square miles. If we get something around here, severe weather wise, and it’s, say, a tornado, I mean I covered the one … I was on the night the one hit in Eagle. That was devastating to people there, but it has a fairly focused path that it goes over, where a hurricane, you may have an entire coast that is in a threat area.

Where does Milwaukee fit in in terms of challenging or interesting places to be a meteorologist?

Oh, it definitely is (challenging). One, you’re next to a body of water and that right there can create microclimates. We see lake breezes. You can see lake effect snow. We have our four distinct seasons so things are always changing, and yeah, it’s certainly a challenge.

Is that what keeps it fun, keeps it interesting?

Yeah, I would say it keeps it fun. Sometimes I would say it’s frustrating.

What are some of the unique challenges here?

I would say lake effect snow. We don’t seem to get that much here because the wind has to be perfect. It has to be this northeasterly wind. A lot of times that’s primarily the direction. I would say one of the most challenging things is in the spring, when it’s an April day. Everyone is like, "All right, I’m really for it to warm up." Here in Milwaukee it might be in the 40s. Then if we’re on TV and we show the temperature map and there’s a warm front close by, trying to nudge in, battle the lake breeze. Then you look around, say Janesville, Madison, maybe as close as Waukesha, it’s 65 or warmer. That’s kind of cruel.

So that's a challenge where maybe you forecast a day and you’re like oh, it’s going to be mild, and then maybe the warm front sits 10 miles just southwest. Yeah.

Then I imagine you get people who are angry. Do you get angry phone calls?

Yeah, it kind of went from when I started my career, maybe you’d get more phone calls, emails. Now it’s just transitioned into social media.

Is it sort of weird that people blame weather people for the weather?

You’ve got to blame someone. I guess whoever is on or working, or the team, is kind of the face of the weather.

I assume that in Savannah you must have some similarly unique challenges by being by the coast.

Right, yeah, so you’re within roughly 20, 30 minutes of the ocean, depending on what part of the city you’re in. You can get sea breeze a lot of times in the summer with all the humidity there. If you do get a sea breeze or a little disturbance, you’ll have pop-up thunderstorms all the time, especially in the south and southeast. You can get severe weather all year around, but it can be a little bit more common maybe parts of going in and out of fall or spring when fronts are actually getting down there.

In the summer, it’s more just maybe you get your tropical type downpours and stuff like that if it rains – and then of course, hurricane season somewhere in the fall.

And hurricanes seem to be a really challenging business. It seems like the tracks can change pretty quickly and dramatically.

That's why when we show that up here some people might just tune it out unless they have friends or family down there or travelling down there if there’s a hurricane. But when we show that cone or the fan, the forecast fan that might go up three, four, five days, that's why it gets so wide at the end because there was so much uncertainty. You’re dealing with such large storm systems and you know it’s going to kind of go, oh, probably one way or another. Then within that, how much of the intensity going to fluctuate?

So the widening at the end is you guys hedging your bets a bit?

Yeah, because the forecasts that we show with those fans, that's from the National Hurricane Center but anyone can then look at models, kind of tweak the forecast how they want.

Which is what you usually do, right? You look at a variety of models?

Yeah and a good example is today because there could be rain, sleet, snow, freezing rain, all of the above. Right before we started here it was 37 in Milwaukee. One model at this time had it at 35 degrees, so you’re like, okay well we’re two degrees above that. There was another model that’s more in that that 37-degree range, but those two degrees are pretty critical when you’re talking freezing rain.

Right, because you’re right on the line there.

Yeah, so you’re close. It’s like, well, one model is handling this a little better so maybe we’ll lean in that direction. It’s a lot of picking up trends, subtleties. You have to pay attention.

You don’t just add the three together and average it out?

(Laughs) Right. If you’re five days out you could look at a whole bunch of models and just find the middle of that and go, "All right, we’ll see where that trends in the days ahead."

Well, it’s funny because once in a while Mark (Baden) will tweet about one model says there’s going to be an inch of snow and another model says there’s going to be 13 inches of snow. You see these wildly varying models.

Day-to-day in the winter, you could probably find a really long-range model at some point that's like, oh, look at that, 10 days from now it’s snow, and then six hours later when the model updates it doesn't have (the snow at all). That's why with some of the long-range stuff, I feel like can give us a little bit of an advantage because I kind of know what should be coming. Then when once I start them, all right, that looks right, follow it through.

What I enjoy about your long-range forecast is, when it comes true, you always remind us that you got it right. (Laughs)

Yes! Well, I have to because a lot of people are like, "Oh, I didn’t even see that," when it happened. Another thing is just that some of these things are possible, because some people are like, "Oh, you can’t do that." These things are possible if you look at the right things or use different methods.

Let’s talk a little bit about Milwaukee. You’ve been here seven-plus years, right?

Yeah, and I’ve lived in Wisconsin over 16 years.

What are you going to miss?

We have a lot of family around here so obviously, we’ll miss that.

Is your wife from around here?

Yeah, she went to Arrowhead High School.

Okay, so her family is here, so you guys will be back.

Oh yeah.

You’ll eat at your favorite restaurant again.

Oh, absolutely. Something we’ll miss ... we both went to the University of Wisconsin, and we’ve had season football tickets. Even when we lived in Kansas City for three years, we kept them (and) we will keep them now. Maybe we’ll make one or two games a year, something like that, and we have plenty of people already lined up, "I’ll buy them, a game here, a game there."

Do you see yourself coming back here at some point if a Chief Meteorologist job opens?

I don’t know. If someone would have said maybe a year ago, "Oh, I’m just going to tell you now; you’re going to be Chief Meteorologist in Savannah," I would have been like, "Oh, I don’t know, maybe, maybe not." I don’t say no to really anything but, certainly, we would like to have a place just call home. It’s a little hectic because my wife works, too, so it’s like seven days a week where we don’t have any mutual days off. Hers is more like Monday to Friday.

So having days where we’re both kind of working the same time a little bit, even though schedules don’t exactly line up, I think that will be nice. And again, it was great stay within the same company too.

Yeah, that's something you would like to do long term, it sounds like.

Yeah, if this is where I land forever, that would be incredible. It’s such a beautiful area and Ieven though it’s like I’ve basically lived my whole life in cold weather, always in my mind I was like I would love to live in a warmer location.

Yeah, so you’re not one of those people that would miss the cold weather?

I don’t think so. I don't know. Well, I think what tarnished me a little bit is I lived in the U.P. for a little over a year. I was in Marquette.

So it was cold.

And very snowy. There was 272 inches of snow that winter. You take maybe an average winter of 46 inches in Milwaukee or so and you’re like, "Oh, that was a pretty good winter." Now, think about that.

I can’t wrap my head around that.

It’s tough to imagine and it just starts snowing and it did not stop. I think that tarnished my view of winter a little bit. We’ll go skiing and stuff like that.

But you can do that on a weekend.

Right, you can get into airplanes and go to snow, right?

Exactly. So that is something you’re looking forward to: the warm weather.

Yeah, I would say so. There’s obviously different forecast challenges, too. I’ve always loved that.

It will give you a good variety of kind of experiences.

Yeah, and something down there, it does not happen often, but if you go down to Savannah, by a lot of the bridges it says a bridge will ice over first.

Right, which we know here. You don’t have to tell us that.

Yeah. They do get once in a while – it’s fairly rare – but they can get some winter and when they do, it’s like a huge deal.

You’re going to be the guy to tell them there’s half an inch of snow and it’s snowmageddon and everything’s closed.

(Laughs) Yeah, well, we just saw it here in the last week with that storm that went kind of near Atlanta, in through those areas. They’re just not used to that.

They just don’t even have the equipment to do the plowing and all that.

It’s so rare that why invest all that money into it?

On a personal level, is this challenging for you to make this kind of move? You said you have two kids and your wife has a job.

Absolutely, yeah. I would say in the last couple of years, and this is something that they’ve been awesome with, they were like, "We want you to stay within the company, but we certainly understand if you have other opportunities and they fit what you want." I’ve explored some of those but it always just didn’t seem right or it was like no, we don’t really want to live there, or just things like that. With any job or any family, people go through just typical decisions like that.

So you took it home and talked it through.

Yeah, and this was like a great fit. The great thing was, when I was down there for the hurricane helping out at the station, it was a time that I got to know some of the people that worked there. It wasn’t just you go show up somewhere for an hour to interview and you leave and you’ve got to make a decision.

Right, you’re not going in blind.

Right, I got to hang out in the city a little bit, meet some people, know what the station is. I already know the company, some stuff like that. It’s a lot of the same computer systems and software, and just a lot of things are the exact same. It’s not like going somewhere and you don’t know anyone and you have to learn this whole new thing. A lot of things that I’ve learned or used at Channel 12 I can take with me.

Is everybody going right away? Are you guys all moving down together or are the kids finishing school first?

Yeah, they’re hoping to. That's kind of their plan and I’m sure I will be really busy right away, so that might work.

Come back on weekends?

Yeah, try to. The flight’s not too bad.

Okay, so give us a parting long term Milwaukee winter forecast. What's going to happen the rest of winter here? Not that it’ll be your problem anymore.

(Laughs) Well, I don’t think I’m going to change my thoughts from the one that we gave in November. There’s really two distinct parts of the pattern. There’s a really active part, which in December, for that two-, three-week stretch, we got over 18 inches of snow during that. Then you get into this dryer part and it’s a little warmer part of the pattern, which hit right around Christmas and into January. Well, now we’re going to start flipping back more late this month, maybe into February.

It’s not like winter not over. We’re going to get a nice break. It might warm up a little bit here in the next week to 10 days. Once we get past this weekend into next week, we should see it warm up. You can call it our January thaw. Then we will get back into the pretty active maybe colder … a little better chance of snow.

Is winter going to run late this year?

No, I think so that say we have maybe mid-40s upper-40s for a duration, is what I refer to it as. Well, that would probably cycle back then maybe sometime mid to late March. Then by April, we might actually have a fairly warm April.

Almost like a spring? Wow.

Mild. I don’t think call it warm. Parts of it is going to get kind of wet, too, possibly.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.