"Vantage Point" by Mike Smith
Remembering Dick Fletcher by Paul Guzzo
Book Review: Historical Photos of Tampa. Text and captions by Ralph Brower by Lisa Ciurro
Dr. Paul Bearer: The Lost Photographs – Part 2 by ED Tucker
Happy Birthday Famous Monsters....Another Icon Lost....Oscar Miss....2 Weeks Left For Rondo by Matt Drinnenberg
Politics .... Oscar Recap .... Speaking Of Winners (not) .... Passing On .... Corrections .... .... .... .... And The Oscar For 1990 Should Have Gone To... by Mike Smith
|Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review|
I originally wrote this article in 2005, but with Dick Fletcher's passing thought it was appropriate to republish on Crazed Fanboy:
Like an ant at the bottom of an empty cereal bowl, he looked up at the dark sky from the tiny reconnaissance plane, the dark walls of the hurricane tilting away from him at an angle. No clouds floated either above or below him, all the hot air had sank in this perfectly formed hurricane eye, allowing him to clearly see the rough sea surface below.
The tiny plane thrashed from side to side, its passengers never knew whether they would turn left or right, go up or down, it was like being on the ride Space Mountain – Disney’s roller coaster in the dark.
It was scary, it was dangerous and it was life threatening. And for Dick Fletcher, chief meteorologist at WTSP Channel 10, it was his job.
When a hurricane comes barreling down upon a community, most people’s natural and correct inclination is to flee, run as far as they can from the powerful work of Mother Nature. Not Fletcher. He doesn’t want to run from the hurricane. He wants to run into the hurricane, right into its eye.
“You can make all the estimates based on satellite pictures and technology you want, but nothing beats the information you can obtain from flying right into the eye of the storm,” said the 63-year-old Fletcher, who has been part of reconnaissance missions into three hurricanes – Debbie in 1982, Diana in 1984 and Kate in 1985 – and 15 different penetrations into the eye of hurricanes. “Being in the storm is the best way to learn about its size and wind speeds.”
“Plus,” said Fletcher, smiling from ear to ear, remembering some of his more dangerous missions, “It’s an adrenaline rush. Honestly, I can’t believe an amusement park hasn’t built a hurricane ride yet; let the public know exactly what it’s like to fly into a hurricane by taking the instrument records from some of the larger hurricanes and recreating the storm.”
As easily as Fletcher can recall his hurricane experiences with a smile, he can also recall them with a frown, knowing how close he has come to never telling his tales again.
“You try and make decisions that won’t kill you,” he said. “But every now and then you make a decision and later look back and realize it may not have been the best decision to make.”
For instance, in 1989 Hurricane Hugo was set to crash down upon Savannah and Fletcher wanted to broadcast his report from ground zero. He chartered a twin engine plane out of St. Petersburg and headed right for the monster. As the plane approached the fringe of the hurricane, Fletcher suddenly realized this may be his last trip into a storm, as the pilot was uncertain if they could even land the plane. In time, the plane did land, but not before it had a few close calls, almost getting swept up by the wind and sent crashing into the ground.
Fletcher’s adventure was far from over, though. He met his television crew at a three-story motel on Tybee Island, located a short distance from Savannah. When the storm hit, Fletcher was unsure if the motel could withstand the onslaught of wind and for an entire hour Fletcher and the television crew huddled away from the windows, hoping they would live to see the morning.
“I still think we were lucky to make it through that storm,” said Fletcher. “But I’d do it again. I haven’t been on a recon mission into a storm in quite a few years and I’d love to go on another ride or two…
“…A long time ago I was told the average person with a degree in communications spends just seven years in the news gathering part of the industry before they move on to something else. I’ve been in the news business for over 30 years now and that’s because I love my job. I love the excitement of it. I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living.”
As a youth growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, though, Fletcher could never have imagined he would one day become a meteorologist. He wanted to be a baseball player.
A talented middle infielder, he rose through the ranks of baseball, starring on an American Legion team that competed against teams boasting such future sports stars as Gayle Sayers, an NFL Hall of Famer. Fletcher thought he was on the right track towards a career as a Major League player. Then he got to college.
“Those boys threw the ball so hard I couldn’t see it,” laughed Fletcher, who attended the University of Omaha. “I realized that I may have been good in high school, but at each level the players keep getting better and that a career in the Major Leagues may not work out.”
If he couldn’t play professional sports, Fletcher figured he would report on them. He turned to journalism, writing for his college newspaper for four years and serving as editor of the publication for one semester before graduating with a degree in communications in 1964.
Out of college, he found work at a radio station in Omaha, writing two 30-minute newscasts a day.
He received his first break in television in the late 1960s, finding work as an anchor at a small television station in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Always scarce on manpower, the station also had Fletcher reporting the weather, providing him with his first taste of meteorology.
“And I loved it,” he said. “As soon as I started reporting the weather I decided to learn everything I could about it. The neat thing about weather is how much you can learn and how much is always being discovered about it. We’ll never have all the answers, making it a never ending education.”
True to his word, Fletcher has never stopped studying meteorology, earning a Certificate of Broadcast Meteorology from Mississippi State University and has done advanced studies at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science.
In 1972 he was hired as a fulltime meteorologist in Denver, Colorado. He would go on to work in Corpus Christi in 1977, Texas then back to Omaha, before taking a job in Tampa in 1980 at WTSP Channel 10.
“I actually was offered two simultaneous jobs for two Channel 10 stations – one in Sacramento and one in Tampa. I took this job because I had never been in Tampa. I’d been out west and in the mid-west, but never the southeast. Looking back, I couldn’t have made a better decision. Twenty-five years later I’m still living here.”
He does much more than live in Tampa; he is a leader in the community’s hurricane preparedness.
“New Orleans was listed as the number one city that should worry most about a direct hit from a hurricane. We’re number two,” explained Fletcher. “We have a lot of planning to do.”
Over the years he has worked closely with the Regional Planning Council and the Disaster Preparedness Committee and helped to set up the first Governor’s Hurricane Conference in 1986. In the early 1980s he rewrote Hillsborough County’s hurricane preparedness guide in a way that enabled the common resident to understand it. He was widely praised for his leadership during Hurricane Elena in 1985 and for popular segments in which he would answer weather questions from viewers, called “Weather Whys.” In 1987 he was honored by the American Meteorological Society with an award for Outstanding Service by a Broadcast Meteorologist, received the Media Award from the Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference in 1993, and was presented the Distinguished Service Award by the National Hurricane Conference in 2003.
“My goal is to make sure everyone in the Tampa Bay area is prepared if a hurricane does hit us directly,” he said. “Do you have two weeks worth of water and food at your home? Do you know your evacuation zone? Do you have a place to stay if you need to evacuate? You have to be self sufficient because at some point things may be so overwhelming that help won’t get to you for a few days. You need to be responsible for yourself. Hurricanes are powerful and dangerous; you really can’t appreciate their power until you experience one first hand. Please, if that day ever comes, be prepared.”
And IF that day does ever come, what will Fletcher do?
“Obviously I’ll do all I can to prepare the people of Tampa Bay for what is coming. But, of course, I’d also like to fly into the eye...
“It’s my job.”
"Filmlook" is ©2008 by Paul Guzzo. All graphics unless otherwise noted are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.