It might surprise you to know that Marc Weinberg, the meteorologist on WDRB, was prepared to get out of TV 13 years ago and sell pharmaceuticals.
“I’d decided TV was not for me,” he says now.
At his other stations, he was told to tone it down, do it their way. And that wasn’t him.
“But I got a call from Bill Lamb [then the station director at WDRB, now the president and general manager], who said he wanted me to come in and help them build a ‘weather vision,’” Weinberg says. “They were asking me to create something, and nobody would tell me how to create it.
“And, they liked my style.”
When you speak to Weinberg, you begin to understand his style. What you see on TV is not a performer, but someone so passionate that it drives the way he thinks about his job, his interconnection with his audience and his feeling of awe about the raw power of weather.
That feeling of awe stemmed from a memorable storm. As a 10-year-old boy in Fairfield, CT, he watched from his window as Hurricane Gloria ripped through the Northeast in the fall of 1985.
“I remember seeing this huge tree bending almost to the ground,” he says. “I wanted to understand: How can weather be so powerful?”
He went to the University of Oklahoma, which has one of the best meteorology programs in the country. He thought he wanted to go for his Masters degree and perhaps teach, but there was an opening at a TV station in little Lawton, OK.
“I was super green, my voice a pitch too high, but I conveyed my fascination with weather. It was the first of many times I was told to tone it down.”
However, he says, “There are tons of tornadoes in Oklahoma, so it was really busy there.”
So busy that he became drawn to storm-chasing, venturing into the eyes of tornadoes with his video camera. Those videos became famous. He appeared on TV with David Letterman, Maury Povich, Dan Rather.
“When there were tornado touchdowns, I was there,” he says. “I was able to show things people had never seen before.”
But he acknowledges the anomaly of severe weather being at once spectacular — “like nothing you’ve ever seen in your life” — and so destructive “it’s hard to wrap your mind around it.”
He found it all fascinating, until a 1999 tornado tore through the town he was living in. “I finally couldn’t separate anymore,” he says. “I knew I could have a successful career as a storm-chaser. But could I live with myself, making money off people dying?”
He also became frustrated with the station’s formulaic way of presenting the weather. So, in 2001, he took another TV job, in Little Rock, AR. And another unhappy experience: “They were not working environments I wanted to be in for the rest of my life. Forty hours a week of negativity can take a toll on every part of your life.”
So, his new life was going to be carrying the bag for Pfizer. Until Lamb came calling with the promise to build something from scratch.
“Thirteen years ago, WDRB was considered the ‘little boy network,’” says Weinberg.
“Our newsroom was like a shoebox. We didn’t have our own weather system, but they promised they were going to build something, and allow me to do things in my own unique way.”
The challenge to take the Number Four team in the market and try for Number One interested him. But, he says, you need the right equipment.
He got it.
“We do augmented reality,” he says. “Very few people around the country do it. It allows you to exist within a three-dimensional environment, walking around the graphic. It’s crazy to watch it on TV, and it’s really cool to do it in the studio.”
Outside of work, he’s a different person entirely. “I’m a quiet, relaxed, shorts-and-T-shirt kind of guy. I’ve always been a gearhead, I love working on cars. I have a 2008 BMW — a ‘garage queen’— that I always think I’ll finish modifying, but I never am.”
He says that when he first quit storm-chasing, he lost a creative outlet. He’s trying to fill the void.
“I’ve found it in cars. I’m thinking of buying a nice telescope. I love SCUBA diving. And weight-training is a great outlet for me, going to the gym and putting my headphones on, nothing else to think about for an hour.”
His passion extends to everything he does.
“I don’t have a middle speed, it’s either zero or 100 mph. Work takes a lot out of me. I take what I do very seriously. I feel like the watchman for the entire community. People’s lives are at risk and that’s a weight I feel.
“My struggle is that I can’t help everybody. I can’t prevent the destruction and loss of lives that so often result from a catastrophic hurricane or storm.”
His voice still catches when he thinks of the 2012 Henryville tornado. What damage. What did he miss? What else might he have done?
“I’m not driven as a meteorologist, I’m driven as a compassionate human being who wants to make a difference,” he says. “I don’t want to let anybody down.”
MARC’S TOP Five
What he likes to do during a quiet weather weekend.
GO TO A U OF L FOOTBALL/BASKETBALL/BASEBALL GAME
I’m a huge college sports fan. Hey, I went to Oklahoma.
I’m still a big kid. I love to ride the go-karts and play the games.
ROCK CLIMBING AT CLIMB NULU
Climbing is like SCUBA diving. Once you have the passion, you can’t understand how everybody doesn’t.
ENJOY A LOUISVILLE FC SOCCER GAME
The games are a blast because of the energy at every one. It’s a can’t-miss for a good time.
WALK THE WALKING BRIDGE DOWNTOWN
What a great way to get some exercise while seeing the beauty of our city. I know it’s a cliché, but I understand it. When people move here, they don’t move away.