Sunday, March 25, 2012

Forecaster Profile: Ian Leonard, Fox9 Chief Meteorologist


In a continuing series to help familiarize readers with Twin Cities weathercasters, Minnesota Forecaster sat down with Ian Leonard, Fox9 chief meteorologist, for a wide-ranging conversation. Ian discussed his theatrical roots, growing up at 53.5 degrees latitude north, the quirks of the weather business and, of course, his polar plunges. Here’s what he had to say:

If you weren’t a television meteorologist, what do you think you’d be doing?
At first I thought I might be a minister or an architect. The architect at the church we went to had a nice Volvo, while we had a Dodge Monte Carlo station wagon. But in 10th grade, I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be any good at designing houses or be able to drive up to church and give the sermon Sunday morning with my nice Volvo in the church parking lot.

As I grew older, I realized I had somehow inherited the performance gene from my parents. My father was an artist by day and sang opera at night while my mom was a dancer in the chorus line. They met during an audition and the rest is history. I started doing television commercials in junior high and caught the TV bug. When it came to making a career choice, I never thought I could be an anchor. I was skinny and not the best looking guy – the original 90-pound weakling. I realized that weather was my best option if I was going to be in television.

Tell us about your “performance gene.”
I was in an improv troupe in senior high school. We ended up getting a TV pilot on CBC in Canada in 1982. It was sort of like “Whose Line is It Anyway?” Back then, it was “Oh No, It’s Improv.” I still have reunions with that troupe and have been on stage with SCTV (Second City Television). I got to work with guys like Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty, guys I grew up admiring and wanting to emulate. When I go back to Edmonton – if I go back at the right time of year – I get to go on an improv show called Oh Susanna! I’m still in touch with a lot of those people … it’s something about your roots. It helps keep you grounded when they call you a “sellout.” Some of them are still living five guys to a house trying to be that performer. I moved on from that a long time ago.

What was it like to begin your career in the place (Edmonton, Canada) where you grew up?
You talk about “local boy makes good” ... I went from part-time freelance weekend weather all the way up to chief meteorologist. I remember going on a conference call with the station VP to tell them I was leaving. They said, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m going to Iowa.” Then all you heard were crickets … for like 30 seconds. People wondered how I could possibly leave the cushy gig at the number one station in the city where I grew up to go to Iowa!

So why did you leave the so-called “cushy gig?”
I knew I ultimately wanted to be in a bigger market and just wanted to try something new. I don’t think I would have been a good guy in the 50s when you got the job and you worked there for 30 years and got the gold watch. Life is just this grand adventure – like when my wife and I went to Paris for our honeymoon we didn’t have hotel reservations. We just want to try new stuff. But I’m not a journeyman. I’ve only worked in three markets in 20+ years, and hopefully we don’t ever move from here. My wife’s family settled in Golden Valley in the 1800s so in a roundabout way I have brought her home. This is great.

What were the forecasting challenges you had working in Edmonton?
Edmonton is 53.5 degrees latitude north. It’s not quite the edge of the earth but you can almost see it from there. If you look at a map, you’ll think, “Wow, I had no idea how far north it was.” In the winter, the sun comes up at ten to 9 and goes down at ten to 3. But in summer, you go play softball at 7 at night and the sun’s going down at five to midnight. It had different forecasting challenges. We had a very short, but intense severe weather season with an average of 15-20 tornadoes a year. A lot of people don’t realize we have those that far north. They have a very long duration winter. Snow would generally stay before Halloween and wouldn’t be gone until well into May. I once did a cut-in there nationally when it was 54 below zero windchill, 42 below air temperature. People are like, “Oh my god, how can you live there?” I just did. It’s like how do you live in Florida when it’s sunny and muggy?

It seems like you’re part scientist, part performer and part graphic designer. Is that a fair assessment?
I have no problem with that. As the chief, you have a large amount of input into how your graphics are going to look and how they are built into your show and all the other shows. There are some stations in some markets where if you’re watching the weekend weather it doesn’t look anything like the weekday weather. My buzzword is always seamless consistency. So if Keith Marler is working the morning show or Marina Jurica is working on the weekend, it’s the same graphics. To me, there’s a comfort level for the viewer in that.

In today’s world, it seems like there is an almost limitless amount of scientific graphics you can create for the viewer. How do you decide what to present?
The “whiz bang fly thru 300 MB (millibar jetstream) 15 days out shows the viewer something they don’t really understand just to make yourself look smart graphics” are a waste of time, and the research backs it up. My approach is to be genuine, conversational and back it up when you need to with solid graphics, excellent presentation and education. Science and graphics are not enough in this 150-channel universe. You must also engage the viewer.

You’re part of a weather team. How much control do you have over what the next person on the team says after you leave the forecast behind?
That’s the beast that we ride. Hundreds of days I’ll be out and it will be a like today, mainly sunny, nice day. Someone will come up to me in Target and say, “You blew this one.” I say, “What do you mean?” “You said it was going to rain,” they’ll say. I said, “No, I didn’t.” But somehow they either thought they were watching me or they were watching somebody else or they heard it on the radio. We’re all sort of meshed together. And some people also say, “We love watching you in the morning.” So you think, “Do I correct them or do I say thank you because they at least recognize me?” Usually, I just say “Thank you so much.”

Do you think viewers follow a met or a station?
That’s a hard one. I think they follow the team but always have a favorite team member. I’m the first to tell you that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. And if you grow up in this business thinking that 10 people you run into in the street will think you’re the bee’s knees, you’re wrong, man. You hope that six think you’re kind of good. There’s a couple who could care less about you and then there’s a couple that might want to punch you square in the chops.

Every job, no matter how glamorous it may seem to outsiders, has to have some challenges, some politics. How about yours?
This is a real fickle business and you have to grow thick skin. It’s not too often when an accountant has to go through a review where they say, “You know what, your hair’s all wrong and you can’t wear that type of suit any more. Lose 20 pounds and, by the way, it wouldn’t hurt you to do a little workout, maybe build your upper body.” These are the things that people tell you and I don’t think there are many people who would take kindly to that. And just when you think you’ve got it, it all changes! And the new person comes in and says, “What do you mean they always told you to wear that? That’s terrible, and why’s your hair so short? I want you to grow it out.” And then you’ve got your agent who has ideas. I remember my agent called me once to give me “coaching” and he said, “You know, I’d cut your sideburns. I know the kids are wearing them like that, but you’re over 40.” That’s the hardest part of this business … everybody’s got an opinion. And it’s also the viewers that have an opinion. There’s a lady who sends me notes every time I wear an orange tie. She hates them. And … it’s just a tie. What do you do, right?

You mention the Special Olympics often during your forecasts, particularly your polar plunges. Some viewers are bothered by what they see as an interruption in your forecast. What would you say to that?
I’ve been involved with the Special Olympics since the 90s and have been doing the polar plunges for a long time. The Special Olympics here is a small organization with less than 10 employees. It’s not fancy. They hit $430,000 the first year, then $660,000. This year they hope to make $2.4 million from nine weeks of polar plunges. It’s created a movement. There are a lot of places that would not let their chief meteorologist talk about something like that every single night on the air but FOX 9 has been incredible in their support for me and Special Olympics. But if it’s not getting in the way of severe or life-threatening weather, why not? The money raised goes toward keeping people healthy, from ages 5 to 66. This is grassroots stuff, changing and saving some lives. I’ve always felt that wherever you work, try to leave it better. I don’t do this because I have to, I do this because I can. It’s not something I do just for the air; this is my life.

How are you evaluated?
Well, first and foremost, get the forecast right, and by doing that you can earn people’s trust… you literally audition for your audience every night and they vote with the remote. Secondly, it’s ratings. You gotta get the ratings to keep the job. I like to call it “infotainment.” I am a science geek who loves weather, but that is not enough to get you to watch. You have to be able to engage the viewers. I tell anyone new in this business, be yourself, be genuine and let the rest happen. And then from there it becomes a flow of everything that goes into getting the ratings. If you are correct with your forecast science and you are genuine then hopefully the ratings will follow.

What weathercasters do you admire? If you could have lunch with one, who would it be and why?
There’d be two people. The first one would be with a guy from Edmonton who I grew up watching. His name was Bill Matheson. And I think for my entire career, he’ll be the yardstick I measure myself by. And he moved to the states and was a big star down here but eventually went back to Canada and was on air until he was about 75. He was unbelievably entertaining. Unbelievably scientific. He was engaging, a wonderful, wonderful man.

And I think second to that would be – and I didn’t get a chance to watch him as long as I would have liked to – but second would be somebody like Paul Douglas. Because it’s not always been about success for either of them, but how they handled it. You know, Paul has had some unsuccessful events, including the stint in Chicago, but he continues to reinvent himself. Paul and I get lunch together every once in a while. I sometimes even let him pay… he is a great mentor and friend.

Like reading about the local forecasters? Here's one we did on KSTP's Patrick Hammer and another on WCCO's Matt Brickman. We also assisted with a similar profile on Keith Marler for Weatherist.com. Look for more to come.

The Minnesota Forecaster provides analysis of both the weather and those who forecast the weather for the Twin Cities. For periodic updates, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

28 comments:

  1. Nice article .... Ian seems like a nice guy and honest --- I respect that.

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  2. haha..sunset at midnight..not really..We live there

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  3. Sorry, I think the other channel nine weatherpeople- Keith Marler and Marina- are far superior to Ian.

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    1. Whatever..... Keith is fake. Takes one to know one.

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  4. Can't stand the arrogant sob!!! Forced Marina Jurica out of camera range in order to interject his superior views about an approaching storm.

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  5. Where has Ian been? Have not seen him on TV for a while.

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  6. Unfortunately, Ian Leonard is back on KMSP-TV. Most viewers (including me) hoped he had been fired.

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  7. To further prove what a tool this guy is, a Monte Carlo is a Chevy, not a Dodge.

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  8. KMSP's ratings would rise if the station told Ian Leonard to take a hike, and hire a good weatherman or weathergirl to replace him.

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  9. Watch channel 9 all the time until Ian comes on then we switch to a different channel. Cant get a good forecast out of him without him turning into a drama king.

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  10. AMEN Brother Ians a pain

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  11. He is probably the most annoying TV personality I have ever seen. When the weather gets bad, he seems to enjoy making dumb comments while having a boyish grin on his face. The self-proclaimed "performance gene" is part of the problem. He thinks he needs to entertain us, but in reality I want a scientific, factual weather forecast and leave the "chicken little sky is falling" stuff for cartoons.

    As far as being a nice guy, I think he probably is. Active in the community (I believe also church), raises money for worthwhile causes, etc.

    Another local channel in the Twin Cities has the following weather tagline, "The calm before the storm". Contrast that with Fox 9's Ian Leonard daily chant, "MAJOR CHANGES AHEAD!!!"

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  12. Wouldn't mind if Ian "worked his way" into another state. Just give the weather and stop "tearing up" each time you talk about Special Olympics. Many of us "give back" and don't constantly need so much attention for our good deeds. Watch Belinda on Kare sometime Ian and learn to be more professional.

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  13. Most annoying weather man! He feels the need to be funny, I just want to know the forecast!!!!

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  14. Most annoying weather man! He feels the need to be funny, I just want to know the forecast!!!!

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  15. Ian Leonard has a knack for being amazingly irritating.

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    1. A lot of the weather dorks are like this now. Old days, they gave the forecast and ducked out of sight.. Wish Ian would watch the old videos and get a clue! It's almost like he thinks he's auditioning to be a comedian, but I doubt he could land a job with that career either..

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    2. Plzzz weather dork Ian.. Dew points in the mid 50's?? I know that you're a wimp, but get a clue. I left south FL on Monday and the temp was 91° hot and humid. It may not even get that high until mid July here.. C'mon.. Woosie...

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  16. A lot of critics out there that don't have the balls to post there names, yet quick to judge. Ian is a person just like you and I. Here is a suggestion, if you don't like the guy, change the channel. Don't go bad mouthing people, it only makes you look ignorant.

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  17. How long has Ian been with KMSP/FOX 9?

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  18. I agree about the bad mouthing. Change the channel if you don't like someone. This article was about a person. I would rather a person having fun on television then some old stodgy cogger. The news team is just that, a team. It'seems made up of a lot of people, not just the anchor (s). Ian is not only a great weather man, but a knowledgeable forecaster and all around good guy who supports charities and is a real person👍

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  19. Please forgive my typos. I blame predictive text😃⌨

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  20. Please forgive my typos. I blame predictive text😃⌨

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  21. I agree about the bad mouthing. Change the channel if you don't like someone. This article was about a person. I would rather a person having fun on television then some old stodgy cogger. The news team is just that, a team. It'seems made up of a lot of people, not just the anchor (s). Ian is not only a great weather man, but a knowledgeable forecaster and all around good guy who supports charities and is a real person👍

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  22. How long has Ian been with KMSP/FOX 9?

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  23. I LOVE IAN LENORARD.. BEST METEROLOGIST IN MN..HE MAKES MY EVENING WITH HIS ZANY FOTECAST..GET WELL SOON

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  24. I LOVE IAN LENORARD.. BEST METEROLOGIST IN MN..HE MAKES MY EVENING WITH HIS ZANY FOTECAST..GET WELL SOON

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  25. Where are you Ian ???? Why have we not seen you on TV??? XOXO Victoria.����

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