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Local CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 hires St. Petersburg native Mark Collins for second meteorologist job



mark-collins.jpgWTSP-Ch. 10 has hired St. Petersburg native Mark Collins as its latest weather forecaster, pairing a hometown guy with a new chief meteorologist touting 10 years' experience covering storms in Orlando.

The hire also nearly completes WTSP's overhaul of its weather department -- made necessary by the departures of forecasters Chris Suchan and Sherry Ray Hughes next month. Suchan accepted a chief meteorologists job at another station after learning he would not get the top job at WTSP -- he won't reveal the new station until officials there give approval -- while Hughes is moving to Ohio to join her husband.

Collins, 37, was born in St. Petersburg and grew up in Treasure Island. In recent months, he's been appearing part-time on WTSP while also working as a forecaster at WJXT-TV in Jacksonville; an arrangement allowed by special agreement between the two stations. Collins starts at WTSP Sept. 15, just as Hughes is scheduled to leave the station and a few weeks before Suchan's planned departure.

jimvanfleet.jpgWTSP has worked fast to announce its new team, as word spread of Suchan's and Hughes' departures, falling before the end of hurricane season. On Monday, the station announced its new chief meteorologist, Jim Van Fleet (at left), 36, who can't join WTSP until his contract with Orlando Fox affiliate WOFL ends in late November or his station finds a replacement. Right now, his start date is scheduled Dec. 1.

"The last thing I want to see is Tampa get a hurricane or a major storm and then I show up after the fact," said Van Fleet, who added he first began discussions with WTSP in late January, not long after the St. Petersburg station's previous chief forecaster, Tammie Souza, returned to a job in Chicago. "It would not be the right way to start in my book."

An employee at WOFL for 10 years, he moved cautiously in negotiating the new job, stressing that he wasn't looking for another position when WTSP approached him.

The station still has one forecasting job left to fill, while newly-hired traffic and entertainment reporter Lorena Rabago is also studying meteorology.

Van Fleet knows he's entering a tough situation -- the chief meteorologists at competing stations all have long tenures in the Tampa Bay market and WTSP is virtually replacing its weather staff for the second time in three years. But Van Fleet remains hopeful he and Collins' long experience in Florida will help overcome any transition problems.

And he plans to continue performing as a country singer -- he's recorded CDs and opened for big-name artists with his band The Reign -- as long as the shows don't interfere with storms and weather coverage. "Obviously, weather comes first," he said. "But it opens up an avenue that's different from your other personalities at the TV station."

[Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2011 9:39am]


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