Bob Reeves provides calm in storms

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

When severe weather threatens, there's a familiar face thousands of residents have tuned in to see for 33 years.

Senior forecaster Bob Reeves of the local CBS affiliate KFVS Channel 12 is the stable, comforting voice of authority on severe weather for residents in Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois and parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.

When a tornado devastated parts of Jackson on May 6, Reeves spent more than two hours on the air, explaining what was happening and giving viewers life-saving information. For many, it's a habit to seek out his face in a storm. And he isn't about to let them down.

"For those who have chosen to get their warnings from us, I have a responsibility to get it to them as quickly as possible," he said.

The relationship Reeves, 55, has with the public was evidenced by the phone calls and e-mails thanking him for getting them through a tough night, said news director Mark Little.

"He is the calm in the center of the storm," Little said. "Even for us in the newsroom, if something severe weatherwise comes up, we all rush over to his desk and ask what's happening. He explains it in a way that puts us at ease too."

Becoming a weatherman

That role began when Reeves came to KFVS in 1970 after graduating from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale with a bachelor's degree in television and radio broadcasting. He was a reporter and later an assignment editor while also issuing weather forecasts. Back then, being a "weatherman" didn't require specific training.

He assumed full-time weather forecasting for "The Breakfast Show" in 1982.

"The job was fun because I hadn't done it in a while and because before then we weren't actually 'forecasting' the weather," Reeves said. "And I really enjoyed working with Jim Burns. He's one of the greatest people I've ever worked with. I also thought, 'Hey, I really enjoy this,' and management thought it was a good idea, too, and we mutually worked it out."

Because the job had taken on more technical requirements, Reeves took courses in broadcast meteorology from Mississippi State University and later passed a presentation and accuracy test offered by the National Weather Association in 1988.

He assumed the nighttime forecast slot when KFVS veteran weatherman Don McNeely retired in 1993. Replacing a beloved TV personality for thousands of viewers put the spotlight on Reeves.

"I had a great deal of anxiety about following the best known person in the market and the first person in this area to take weather seriously rather than simply reading a forecast," Reeves said. "Don had a basic understanding of weather systems, and I think he relayed that to the public as a very high priority. And consequently, he was the authority -- and in many ways still is."

We interrupt this ...Most of the two straight hours Reeves spent on the air last week would have been national programming. The station's forecasters have a great deal to do with deciding whether to pre-empt, Little said. The decision is always made locally, without any influence from the CBS network.

"We have the freedom to break in at any time," Little said. "We owe our viewers more than we owe David Letterman or Bob Barker."

It may mean losing revenue from commercials, but Reeves said its a price his bosses are willing to pay.

"I will take as much time as I think is necessary to convey the warning, but then I'll try to go back as quick as I can," he said. "If it cuts out one or two spots, so be it. Or if it cuts no spots, so be it. I'm sure I've cost the station a lot of money over the last week with all the warnings."

The only negative criticism from viewers Reeves can recall concerns those interruptions, he said. Some viewers don't want their shows interrupted for anything.

But not retiree George "Dude" Huey of Cape Girardeau. Huey and his wife, Schirley, were watching KFVS when the tornado hit Jackson, just a few miles west of their rural home.

"I think he's good," Huey said. "Whatever he tells us, we think he's right. If there's a storm and he tells us it's away in Bollinger County or to the south, that puts us at ease. And of course, if he tells us it's right up on us, we know we'd better get to the basement."

Behind Reeves' calming voice is a vast network of weather information. KFVS shares a large, sweeping radar system with stations in Evansville, Ill., and Jonesboro, Ark. Information from the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., is used as source to draw weather graphics. The National Weather Service offices in Paducah, Ky., St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn., issue weather warnings in the more than 52 counties KFVS reaches. And the station relies on atmospheric computer models from the National Center for Environmental Prediction in Maryland.

But the station's strength is in its history of forecasting, Reeves said.

"You get our understanding of the area and its uniqueness to how weather systems react around here," he said. "Based on what we've seen in the past, we have a good understanding why certain areas will be colder or warmer."

Reeves considers the F4 tornado that hit Poplar Bluff and the surrounding area in April 2002 to be the most memorable weather event he has reported on.

"When it began I don't think we knew how bad it was really was," he said. "It started as a severe thunderstorm warning and became a tornado. That's why I think people should take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously."

Several specific elements created Jackson's tornado, Reeves said. An upper level jet stream from the southwest brought low pressure over the area and moisture from the south provided energy for storms to build on. In addition, the wind direction kept changing at different heights in the storm.

The last several days of pleasant weather are a result of a filtering effect by storms, he said.

"After a big storm comes through, it cleanses the atmosphere," he said. "The wind and the rain, if you will, wash out the pollution in the atmosphere. And the air is clear enough to look blue again, in this case a very deep blue."

Getting personal

When Reeves was at the KFVS tower last week telling other families how to keep safe in a storm, he couldn't watch over his own. After nearly 35 years of marriage, Reeves has a great deal of appreciation for the patience of his wife, Bev.

"She misses me when those things happen, and I hate to be away from her in a threatening situation, but it's part of the job," he said.

Their son, Brian, 32, teaches history at a Farmington high school and has two children of his own.

Reeves likes to travel and enjoys seeing national parks, mountains and especially lighthouses. He and his wife have been to every state except Alaska, Hawaii and Washington.

But then it's back to the studio. Before each newscast, Reeves bustles back and forth between large, colorful computer screens, checking reports and the latest radar readings. At the end of most evenings, Reeves takes calls from the station's 100 or so weather watchers and updates the Web site a final time.

After Tuesday night's tornado, he answered a call from an elderly woman who was sitting scared and alone in a darkened home. She wanted to know if she was safe.

"I told her the storm passed and the immediate danger was over," he said. "It was just a three-minute conversation, but she was thankful and relieved. You really need to put someone's mind at ease if you can and give them all the information you have."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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