Will departures at WTSP-Ch. 10 leave station with one weather forecaster in hurricane season?
(Correction: A previous version of this story had an incorrect date for Hughes' departure).
Management at St. Petersburg’s CBS affiliate insist it will never come to this: having just one weather forecaster on staff deep into hurricane season.
But WTSP-Ch. 10 does face a challenge in weeks to come, as meteorologists Sherry Ray Hughes and Chris Suchan are scheduled to leave the station by the end of September.
Because executives haven’t yet replaced chief meteorologist Tammie Souza, who left WTSP in January, that means Bobby Deskins could be the last man left standing in the CBS affiliate’s weather department, if replacements aren’t found.
The station is now airing ads with Suchan and Hughes touting its status as a weather authority and an additional forecasting center in Clearwater (longtime viewers still remember how the station’s reporting on Hurricane Charley was hobbled in 2004 when staff was forced to evacuate its Gandy Boulevard studios).
Still, it seems possible WTSP could have more weather centers than forecasters before long. “We haven’t found then yet, but we are actively pursuing replacements,” said Ken Tonning, general manager at WTSP, who added that they expect to have new people in place before both meteorologists leave.
Hughes is expected to leave on or about Sept. 15 to join her husband in Ohio. Suchan will depart on Sept. 30th, likely to take a chief meteorologist’s job at another station he declined to name.
“It’s not a 100 percent situation, but I feel good about it,” Suchan said in a voice mail left with the St. Petersburg Times, noting that he has not signed a contract for the new job. “At some point, you’ve got to figure out how you can make the next career move.”
Does Suchan’s departure indicate executives have told him he won’t get the chief’s job at WTSP? Tonning won’t say, denying they have delayed naming a new chief meteorologist to save money in a year when parent company Gannett has implemented layoffs and furloughs.
“We offered Chris an opportunity to stay, he considered carefully and took another opportunity,” Tonning said. “We started looking for a new chief as soon as Tammie gave us notice. But the chief’s job is the head of the team; you want make sure they’re qualified.”
Longtime area TV news viewers know that local stations have a long tradition of continuous live coverage during weather emergencies -- the kind of blanket reports which can earn audience loyalty for years. Back in 2004 when Florida was hit by four hurricanes, such reporting became a regular occurrence; even today, weather forecasts are an important part of success for area TV stations.
WTSP is no stranger to drama in its weather department. Souza’s departure came just two years after she arrived from Chicago to replace Dick Fletcher, a near-30-year veteran who died in January 2008 after suffering a stroke (indeed, it took WTSP many months to choose Souza, who started at WTSP in October 2008).
In 2008, fill-in forecaster Stephanie Roberts was let go, picked up by Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28; meteorologists Anna Allen and Randy Rauch were also released that year.
In a TV market where weather reporting is increasingly important, could WTSP face the tail end of a hurricane season with three meteorologists local viewers don’t know?
“We’ll have two or three really good new meteorologists,” Tonning said. “That I can say for sure.”