Since joining the Channel 5 news team in July 1990, Tom Messner has become something of a phenomenon. He is arguably the most popular person in local television -- perhaps in the history of TV in the Champlain Valley. The guy wins popularity polls as reliably as he predicts the weather, and he's distinguished himself in that arena as well. Messner was the 30th person in the nation, and the first in our region, to obtain the new Certified Broadcast Meteorologist designation from the American Meteorological Society.
You love him, but how well do you really know him? We thought we'd give Messner the "Tubefed" treatment in an effort to see what makes him tick. And, of course, smile.
SEVEN DAYS: You're phenomenally popular. If a publication in the region does a reader poll and there's a Favorite Weather Reporter category in it, you consistently come out on top. To what do you attribute this stranglehold?
TOM MESSNER: I don't know. Maybe because underneath the suit and the Super Doppler radar, they can tell I'm a pretty ordinary guy. I'm that guy in the grocery store wearing the baseball hat because his hair's messed up after he's dropped the kids off at school. You know . . . the one who needs help finding the cranberry sauce.
SD: Anything subliminal or involving hypnotism in your on-air delivery?
TM: Yes. The Doppler radar sweeps on Storm- Tracker 5000 have the same effect as that swinging pocket watch. Don't tell anyone.
SD: You've become famous for your smile and upbeat personality on camera. Off camera, you've got to have a dark side. What makes Tom Messner spitting mad?
TM: When Mark Sudol stands in front of the weather wall, pretends to be me, and is better at it.
SD: Where did you grow up? Happy childhood, I presume?
TM: Rochester, New York. Wouldn't change a day of my childhood. It was the greatest!
SD: Any little meteorologists at home?
TM: A couple kids, but no meteorologists. In fact, when a viewer asked my 4-year-old why she didn't want to be a TV meteorologist like her dad, she responded, "Because it's boring." Who knew?
SD: People might be surprised to learn that you have a degree in business economics. Was a TV career not what you originally predicted?
TM: It wasn't. But after selling commercials for a radio station in Akron, Ohio, I realized the rejection was too much. (OK, so elevator music wasn't that popular then, either.) I then found myself on the radio for five years, before my TV debut on a home-shopping channel in Rochester. Selling china dolls and toilet seats wasn't glamorous, but it gave me the guts to audition for the weekend weather gig at Channel 8 there. Having secured the job, I quickly realized I knew nothing about weather. It was then I decided to return to school, this time for meteorology.
SD: If you weren't doing the weather, what do you imagine you'd be doing?
TM: I'd own a business. I owned WFAD Radio in Middlebury for three years and loved it. With two young kids at home and my meteorology responsibilities at NewsChannel 5, WOKO-FM, KOOL 105 and WJOY, it was just too much. It's something I may look at again down the road, though.
SD: What's your favorite kind of weather?
TM: Hot, sunny weather. There is nothing better than a summer day on Lake Champlain.
SD: Global warming: myth or manmade disaster?
TM: Global warming: real. Manmade: partly. There's a real temptation to point to things like our latest hurricane season and say, "See? This is all because of global warming." Well, in truth, the hurricanes have been stronger because it's been warmer, but what sometimes gets left out of that equation is that warming trends are cyclical, and we are in a warm cycle right now. Have we made this cycle worse than it might have been? Probably. And that's where the manmade global warming comes in.
SD: I've watched you since you took over for Bird. You never seem to put on a pound or age a day. Special effects, or one of those chambers Michael Jackson used -- what's your secret?
TM: Actually, the credit goes to the new cameras at WPTZ. In real life, I'm balding, very wrinkly and 270 pounds.
SD: How do you decide between "partly sunny" and "partly cloudy?" Kind of one of those "the glass is half empty" things, isn't it?
TM: It is. I'm a "glass is half full" kinda guy. I'll say partly sunny every time. Although, it doesn't work that well at night.
SD: Al Roker or Willard Scott?
TM: Roker. Back in 2001, when we had that huge March snowstorm, I appeared live on "The Today Show," standing on a huge snowbank. After that live shot, Al had his talent agent call me to say nice job. I thought that was cool.
SD: Be honest: Have you ever been tempted to use the power of the StormTracker 5000 for evil?
TM: Oh, no. We're all about good at NewsChannel 5.
SD: I like the fact that new technology like that Super Doppler setup you have has made it possible to replace old-fashioned "forecasts" with "futurecasts." Have you checked to see if that thing can be set to spit out winning Megabucks numbers? Or maybe it could tell us who'll be the next mayor of Burlington.
TM: Hmm, not sure, but I'll give it a try. If you see election results on the news the night before Town Meeting Day, you'll know I was successful.
SD: What's your favorite weather movie? Twister, The Day After Tomorrow, The Ice Storm? There are lots of them . . .
TM: Definitely Twister. Where else can you see flying cows?
[Full disclosure: Rick Kisonak's "Art Patrol" movie review is on WPTZ Channel 5.]