South Charlotte

Rain or shine, his outlook is always sunny

Growing up in Framingham, Mass., Steve Udelson, 49, developed a fascination with the weather at an early age.

"With all the storms and blizzards in the Northeast, the weather plays a big role," said Udelson. "Most people have a weather addiction."

It wasn't until he was in high school, however, that Udelson thought about parlaying his fascination with weather into a career.

"The more I learned about forecasting, the more I knew that's what I wanted to do with my life," he said.

Udelson started college in 1978 as a physics major at the University of Massachusetts but transferred to the University of Maryland in 1980 after learning about that university's meteorology co-op program, which offered students internships and hands-on experience interspersed with course study.

Udelson's first internship was with NASA's Space Flight Center, followed by two semesters working for the National Weather Service. The internships confirmed Udelson's passion for weather forecasting, but they also ruled out doing so from behind a desk.

"I never planned on being on TV," said Udelson. "I always thought I'd be behind the scenes."

But the monotony of the internships left him wanting variety and excitement. He found what he was looking for when he accepted a part-time job as the on-air meteorologist's assistant at the Washington, D.C., ABC affiliate.

"As soon as I stepped into the studio, I knew I'd found where I was meant to be," said Udelson.

He relished the excitement of being on-air and the fact no two days were the same. He stayed at the station for two and a half years, working behind the scenes to make the maps and graphics for the station's meteorologist, until he was able to put together his own tape. His first broadcasting gig was as the weekend weatherman at WCFH in Portland, Maine, where news director Jeff Marks was a former colleague.

Udelson has called Marks at both the 10- and 20-year anniversaries of his hiring to thank him for giving him his start. It was a small station in a small market, a far cry from where Udelson now finds himself.

"We had no computer graphics," said Udelson. "Behind me was what amounted to a nice-looking chalkboard, with an outline of the state of Maine and one of the United States."

After a year learning the ropes and getting comfortable in front of the camera, Udelson took a job as the meteorologist at WPEC in West Palm Beach, Fla. It was there he experienced his most memorable on-air blooper.

The Miami Zoo was visiting the station one day and a floor person thrust a penguin into Udelson's arms in the middle of his broadcast.

"While I was live on air, the penguin pooped all over me," he said. He had no choice but to continue, minus the penguin and his suit jacket, but his family still enjoys watching the tape of the incident.

"I had that suit dry cleaned four times," said Udelson, "but I still had to throw it out. I could never get the smell out."

West Palm Beach was followed by stints in Boston and Washington, D.C. (the same station where he had interned as a student years earlier), and Tampa before moving to Charlotte in 1997 as chief meteorologist for WSOC (Channel 9) in Charlotte.

"The reputation of the area, the people and the station is what drew me," said Udelson, and he has been happily forecasting the weather for Charlotte residents since.

"I enjoy sharing my passion for the weather and teaching our viewing audience about weather trends and phenomena," he said.

He describes his style as calm and not unnecessarily alarmist. "I try not to be over the top or to panic people for no reason. There is no need to track something seven days out or hit the alarm button just for the sake of ratings."

The toughest part of his job, he said, is the schedule and his lack of control over it. He typically will go in to the station around 1:30 p.m., but he already has started tracking the weather and formulating his forecast well before then. His first newscast is at 5 p.m., followed by two more at 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.

He then goes home for dinner and to spend some family time with his wife, Sue, 47, and daughters Dana, 18, and Rachel, 14. At 9 p.m. he returns to WSOC to prepare for the 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts, concluding his workday after midnight each night.

Another job hardship is people tend to blame him for the weather. "Even when I get it right they seem to think I can control the weather," he said.

He also points out that some folks tend to forget the meaning of the word "forecast." While there are many helpful computer models and prognosticators available, there is still a lot of art and human intervention involved in each forecast.

"When economists and stockbrokers get it wrong, "they don't seem to get the same kind of blame meteorologists do," said Udelson.

Not a day goes by that Udelson isn't stopped by his Providence Plantation neighbors or people he encounters on the street or in the grocery store asking for a personalized forecast. Whether it's an upcoming camping trip or an outdoor party or a garden in need of rain, everyone wants his opinion on what weather is in store for them.

"Everyone wants to discuss the weather," said Udelson.

Not that he minds. He has made a living from doing just that.