Famous People Who Used to Be Weather Forecasters

Weather forecaster behind a desk in a TV studio
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Once viewed as more of a professional stepping-stone rather than a serious vocation based on years of meteorological training, there are more than a couple of local television weather forecasters-turned-celebrities out there. While some of these erstwhile weatherpersons have continued to work in broadcast television in decidedly more high-exposure roles, others have gone on to become things like iconic sex symbols, Lifetime movie actresses, and super-powerful media bigwigs. Here’s a look at a few notable ones.

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Hailstones the size of canned hams: David Letterman

Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons [CC by 1.0]

Perhaps the most famous of former weathermen, grouchy and gap-toothed late night chatterbox David Letterman honed his on-air reading (and comedy) skills in the early 1970s as a weatherman at WLWI (now WTHR) in his native Indianapolis where his on-screen antics included referencing fictional cities in his forecasts, congratulating a tropical storm for being upgraded to a hurricane and predicting that an impending storm could potentially produce hailstones “the size of canned hams.” Although Letterman’s irrelevant brand of meteorology caught the attention of Indianapolis TV watchers, in 1975 he left Indiana and moved to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a comedy writer. Letterman bounced around on the game show and stand-up comedy circuits for several years (he even appeared on an episode of “Mork & Mindy”) and then, with a big boost from his mentor Johnny Carson, debuted the edgy-but-popular “Late Night With David Letterman” on NBC in 1982. That program lasted for 11 successful years until the eternally acerbic late-night host made the switch to CBS with the “Late Show with David Letterman” where he continues to make jokes about canned hams.

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Sorry, there are no vowels in the forecast: Pat Sajak

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We weren’t entirely surprised to find out that Pat Sajak, the amiable spin master on every grandmother’s favorite post-dinner television program, “Wheel of Fortune,” got his start as a weatherman. (The hair is a dead giveaway.) Prior to hosting “Wheel,” the Illinois-born radio vet — he served as a DJ on Armed Forces Radio while stationed in Vietnam — was a TV weatherman first on a substitute/weekend basis for Nashville’s WSM-TV (now WSMV) and then full-time for KNBC in Los Angeles. In 1981, Sajak was poached to host “Wheel” by Merv Griffin as a replacement for Chuck Woolery, who went on to host the cringe-worthy 1980s classic, “The Love Connection.” Although Sajak hasn’t always been the host of the daytime version of “Wheel of Fortune,” he has been the one-and-only host of the syndicated evening version, which, by the way, is the longest syndicated game show program in TV history. And Vanna? She’s been the show’s resident gussied-up letter-flipper since 1982.

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Cloudy with a chance of blood splatters: Marg Helgenberger

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Emmy Award-winning actress Marg Helenberger is a seasoned vet of TV (“China Beach, “CSI,” “ER”), film (“Species,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Fire Down Below”), and films made for TV (“Death Dreams,” “Lethal Vows,” “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenét and the City of Boulder”) who made her on-screen debut as “Margi McCarty,” a weather girl at KHGI in Kearney, Nebraska. At the time, Helgenberger was a student at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, performing in campus theater productions and working at a meat-packing plant as a “deboner” during the summers. Helgenberger eventually abandoned her short-lived career in weather forecasting and enrolled at Northeastern University where she continued to act in campus productions and was eventually cast in the long-time daytime soap opera, “Ryan’s Hope,” in 1982. Currently, Helgenberger is best known as Vegas showgirl-turned-forensic scientist Catherine Willows on “CSI,” a role that she’ll be leaving after 12 successful seasons in 2012.

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Before the bikini, there was weather: Raquel Welch

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Hard-working, well-preserved 1960s and ‘70s sex goddess Raquel Welch may be known for many things — prehistoric bikinis, wig infomercials, exercise videos, “Myra Breckinridge” and some mighty impressive work with Tom Jones — but weather forecasting? Yep, before Welch became the cinematic first pin-up girl in history to don an animal-skin bikini, she was better known as Raquel Tejada, college student and weather forecaster at KFMB in San Diego. Welch’s stint as San Diego’s buxomest weather girl was short-lived as she soon moved to Dallas where she found work as a cocktail waitress and Neiman Marcus model. After that, she relocated back to Southern California where she focused on her acting career. Welch bounced around as a B-list starlet for a few years, picking up small roles in films and TV shows like “Bewitched” and “McHale’s Navy” before entering the collective cultural consciousness (and the bedroom walls of millions of teenage boys) as sexy cavewoman Loana the Fair One in the campy 1966 fantasy film, “One Million Years B.C.”

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The local weather forecaster goes corporate: Bob Iger

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Although most of the former weather forecasters on this list have a continued presence on television in one capacity or another, an erstwhile weatherman out of Ithaca, New York, took a decidedly different route as president and CEO of the Walt Disney Company and a prominent member of the Apple board of directors. That’s right, Bob Iger, one of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry, got his start as a local weatherman in upstate New York after graduating from Ithaca College’s Roy S. Park School of Communications. In 1974, Long Island-born Iger ditched meteorology and began working for ABC and quickly climbed the corporate ranks within the media giant. In 1999, Iger was named president of Walt Disney International before being promoted to Disney’s president and COO in 2000 and, in 2005, president and CEO of Disney, succeeding Michael Eisner. Iger, who oversaw Disney’s acquisition of Apple-owned Pixar in 2006, probably brings in a few more pesos than he would as a local TV weatherman: His reported compensation as the CEO of Disney was more than $29 million in 2009.

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From FM obscurity to ‘SNL’ acclaim: Gilda Radner

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Although the late, great funny woman Gilda Radner never made it as far as television weather forecasting, she did indeed partake in meteorology of the FM variety as a weather girl for college radio station WCBN while enrolled at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. And it’s a good thing she didn’t stick around to graduate to TV weather: Radner dropped out of college her senior year to follow her then-boyfriend to Toronto where she starred in a 1972 stage production of “Godspell” alongside Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy and Martin Short. Next, Radner joined the Toronto chapter of famed comedy improv troupe, Second City, before becoming the first performer to be cast for a new late-night sketch comedy show called “Saturday Night Live” in 1975. Just try to imagine the weather being forecast in the unforgettably grating voice of Roseanne Roseannadanna ...

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Louisville forecaster: Diane Sawyer

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One of Nicole Kidman’s finest and most unsettling performances to date is that of Suzanne Stone-Maretto, a fame-hungry small-town weather girl with dreams of reaching the prime-time big time just like her idol, Diane Sawyer, in Gus Van Sant’s 1995 black comedy/thriller, “To Die For.” Unlike Stone-Maretto, whose news-casting dreams are derailed by a murderous affair with a high school student played by Joaquin Phoenix, Sawyer’s career tract from Midwestern beauty queen and weather girl at WLKY in Louisville, Ky., to former “Good Morning America” co-host to current host of “ABC World News” has been a little less, well, sordid (that is unless you count all those years that Sawyer was believed to be “Deep Throat” in the Watergate scandal).