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Iconic meteorologist Dick Fletcher dies

Dick Fletcher was chief meteorologist for WTSP-Ch. 10 for nearly 30 years. He suffered a stroke Feb. 18.

Dick Fletcher was chief meteorologist for WTSP-Ch. 10 for nearly 30 years. He suffered a stroke Feb. 18.

One year, Dick Fletcher's wife threw a him a birthday party. His close friends from the station were at his house, having a great time.

But Fletcher couldn't stop checking his computer. There was a storm coming.

Eventually, he left his own party and went to the news station. The rest of his guests trickled out, joining him back at work.

"Dick was not even scheduled to be on," said Mike Deeson, a reporter at WTSP-Ch.10. "He was so committed to this. He lived for weather."

Fletcher, WTSP's chief meteorologist for nearly 30 years, died Tuesday morning at age 65. He never recovered from a stroke suffered on Feb. 18.

Hundreds of well-wishers offered condolences through the station's Web site and cards sent to the CBS station.

"Dick was the kind of guy who wanted to get it out fast, but more importantly, he wanted it out right," said Ed Davis, a 45-year-old viewer from Clearwater who began watching Mr. Fletcher in high school. "If I wanted to do something important, I watched Dick Fletcher. If I had something going on outside, I watched Dick Fletcher."

At work, he prolonged daily editorial meetings with factoids about the weather. He bounded quickly through the newsroom, smiling, nachos in hand. He wasn't afraid to correct anchors on air. He had an-off color sense of humor.

And he let his opinions rip.

Once, when a reporter quipped on air that she hoped it stayed dry for a parade, Mr. Fletcher shot back — the major drought going on was more important than a parade.

In 1985, when Hurricane Elena stalled off the Gulf Coast for three days, Fletcher turned in a marathon performance, spending long hours updating viewers on the storm's progress, gaining a huge local following.

Viewers appreciated his "3-degree-guarantee" — he'd give a Channel 10 mug or T-shirt to a viewer if his forecasts were off more than 3 degrees. Later, he presented "Weather Whys," answering viewer questions about weather issues.

Fletcher was born in Omaha, Neb. He worked in Texas and Colorado before joining WTSP as chief meteorologist in 1980. The station, then an ABC affiliate, had decided to get serious about the weather, said Deeson. The modern weatherman would be more than goofy comic relief.

He was private about his home life. Fletcher lived in St. Petersburg and drove a modest red pickup truck. Tennis was his release. He played in a senior league, where he won a tournament. He trained at North Shore courts.

On the court, he'd wax about politics and religion and swap jokes with other players. He was competitive and hard on himself. And despite his heavy smoking habit, which friends say he tried to quit for about six months after suffering a first stroke in 2003, he was quick and agile.

"He always ran a ball down," said his tennis pro, Jack Carey Jr. "He was as fast as any teenager I worked with."

Iconic meteorologist Dick Fletcher dies 02/27/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2008 12:58am]
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