My Channel 3 weather friend Paul Barys hears it everywhere he goes: in the grocery store, in the mall, on vacation, even when he goes to the mailbox. “Paul said it would be like this!”
I think it's one of the most successful promo campaigns in Chattanooga TV history. The promos aired only for a few years in the late 1980s, but they sure made an impression. Paul joined WRCB in 1985, and was the latest in a long line of weather forecasters at the station. John Gray held the job for 12 years before leaving in 1970, and after that nobody stayed very long. The station used various men and women, young and not-so-young. Some were meteorologists, others were not. Some were hired because they were pretty or cute. Some lasted a year, others lasted a month. One or two were quite good, others were not. Then came Paul.
Now completing his 36th and final year at Channel 3, the bearded weather wizard certainly knows his stuff. But in 1985, he was just another new weather person, and nobody knew if the Chicago native would stay any longer than his predecessors did. Thankfully, he fell in love with the area, and he and his wife Sarah decided it was the perfect place to raise their daughters Maggie and Jamie.
Everybody has a favorite "Paul weather story," and I have two. On Thursday, January 7, 1988 I had only been at Channel 3 for about three months. Paul had predicted a significant snowfall the day before, so the station put several of us up at the Whitehall Apartments, just up the hill from the studio. A steep hill, in fact. The news director had asked Paul and me to come in early to handle the weather and school closings. We got up in the wee hours of the morning and prepared to head down the hill.
Paul, a veteran of snowy Chicago winters, surveyed the twelve-inch snowfall, took a few steps outside, and proclaimed, "Oh, this is nothing. This is the kind of snow you can drive in!" I figured he knew what he was talking about, so I followed him to his car. He got behind the wheel, while I strapped in on the passenger side. Down the hill we went, spiraling out of control, finally skidding into a ditch at the foot of the hill. There were no injuries, except to Paul's pride. Needless to say, I never let him forget that. Every time it snows, I ask him, "Is this the kind of snow you can drive in?" He loves it when I say that.
Then on Tuesday March 9, 1993, I had just returned to the station after filming a news story in Rossville. It was almost spring, and it sure felt like it. Sunshine and 75 degrees. I was digging out the baseball equipment for my sons. Might as well start throwing and hitting, because the heat was on. That afternoon, I was passing by Paul's desk and I said hello to him. "Come here David," he said. "I want you to see something."
He showed me some computer printouts of squiggly lines on charts and maps that I couldn't possibly understand. "We're going have twenty inches of snow on Saturday," he said.
That was still four days away, and it was short-sleeve weather outside. I patted him on the back, said something like, "Right, Paul," and wondered if maybe he'd been staring into his computer screen too long.
You know the rest of the story. On Saturday March 13, we woke up to a total white-out: twenty inches of snow, even more in some places. He had predicted it several days in advance, long before the days of 21stcentury technology. To this day, people thank Paul for giving them enough notice back in 1993, so they could stock up on milk, pork and beans, and toilet paper. He has become the longest-running weather forecaster in the city's broadcast history, setting a record that may never be broken.
While being interviewed recently in advance of his retirement on July 2nd, he reflected on how forecasting has changed during his forty-plus year career, which included stints in North Carolina and Ohio before coming to Tennessee.
“There’s no comparison,” he said. “When I started, we got a lot of help from guys at the local airport, and our radar was very limited. It was much more of a guessing game than it is now. Today, if we tell you a tornado is headed to your neighborhood in fifteen minutes, you’ve got just enough time to activate your safety plan, because it’s coming.”
Paul and his colleagues have worked hard to save a lot of lives, and their work is appreciated. Job well done, Paul. Enjoy your retirement.