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Years after retirement, Roy Leep still delivers forecasts

Roy Leep stands next to a photo of Scud, his beloved cairn terrier who became a Tampa Bay area star in her own right.
Roy Leep stands next to a photo of Scud, his beloved cairn terrier who became a Tampa Bay area star in her own right.
Published Sep. 29, 2017

TAMPA

When legendary Tampa meteorologist Roy Leep gave his final televised broadcast in 1997, he was signing off on an illustrious 40-year career at WTVT-Ch. 13.

However, the weather remained on his radar, literally and figuratively. Leep's current position is resident meteorologist at University Village retirement community in North Tampa, where he helped establish a weather station and began transmitting weather reports in 2003.

"I do pinpoint forecasting for the 34 acres in University Village," explains the 84-years-young weather scientist.

The home he shares with his wife, Jane, is perhaps the only one like it in the country. Where else will one find a full-fledged broadcast-quality weather station tucked inside a condominium?

"I've always had a weather station at home," Leep says.

• • •

The weather station he mans today is listed on the national registry of civilian weather stations and its reports are available worldwide via numerous websites.

No fewer than a dozen monitors flash colorful Doppler radar feeds, grayscale satellite loops, and meteorological telemetry in Leep's home weather office. Temperature readings, barometric pressure and other primary weather information is fed into the equipment via weather recording instruments positioned atop a seven-story condominium building in his community.

Jane Leep, Roy's wife, has no issue with having all the meteorological equipment in her home.

"I like to think I'm part of the weather team," she said. "We were monitoring Hurricane Irma until past 1 a.m. on Monday morning when the eye passed safely by."

It helped that live audio updates from the National Weather Service piped through a radio positioned in his office near a monitor displaying video feeds from WTVT's SkyTower.

With an iconic presence on Kennedy Boulevard, SkyTower stands as the first and most powerful privately owned Doppler radar in the world, and as a monument to Leep's career. He personally designed SkyTower, which topped out at 250 feet tall in 1989 with a 20-foot-wide radar dish capable of detecting storms up to 450 miles away.

• • •

SkyTower may be one of Leep's most visible legacies, but it's hardly the only one. When he joined the WTVT staff in August 1957, weather reporting was barely a feature in television news broadcasting.

Yet for Leep, weather was anything but an afterthought. His humble beginnings included many days spent as a teenager hanging out with weather scientists at Bowman Field airport in his native Louisville, Ky.

"In 1946, I had a home weather station and tracked rainfall amounts with a rain gauge," he recalls. "I also worked in the Bowman Field weather office and watched the staff release weather balloons. The people there helped me come up in the field."

He attended Murray State in Kentucky, helping his school set up a campus weather station with the geography department. Following two years of college, he joined the Air Force during the Korean War and attended weather schools in Illinois, even teaching classes for four years. Life in the Sunshine State followed.

"I attended Florida State University majoring in meteorology, and I gave weather reports on local radio. I even had two weather teletypes in my home," he said, describing equipment he used in the 1950s to receive meteorological updates and alerts.

One day, a WTVT stringer heard Leep on the radio and convinced the station manager to invite the young meteorologist for an interview. The rest was history.

• • •

Leep, whose official WTVT title swiftly became chief meteorologist, initially did reports using drawings on boards. In 1959, he oversaw the introduction of a radar device similar to that used in the Air Force. "It had a small screen, so we fixed a TV camera on it so viewers at home could see the radar display."

It was the first weather radar used exclusively by a TV station.

His pioneering efforts in the industry helped Leep garner an early seal of approval from the American Meteorological Society. "I was registered No. 10," he said.

He introduced many meteorological broadcast firsts to WTVT, originally a CBS affiliate. Notably, it became the first private television station to use on-air satellite imagery for weather forecasting.

WTVT, which in recent years named its weather department the Roy Leep Weather Center, gained much of its visibility on the local newscast scene through the meteorological advances instituted by Leep.

• • •

In the late 1980s, as Leep was busy working on SkyTower and helping colleagues prepare for a move to the station's current facility, the famous weatherman was nearly overshadowed by another local star: his photogenic cairn terrier, Scud.

"She was low, ragged and fast-moving," like the type of cloud she was named for. "People sent in dollar bills and dog treats for her."

No wonder. Dressed in adorable outfits, Scud captured hearts throughout Tampa Bay when she appeared onscreen with Leep. She was even featured in her own calendar.

Scud passed away at almost 18 years old in February 2003. The Leeps didn't adopt another four-legged family member after her death. "You just don't replace a dog like Scud," said Jane.

• • •

Today, Leep constantly keeps his finger on the pulse of technology. He pipes weather updates through a Twitter account (@CW1018_UNIVLG) and broadcasts weather updates and forecasts on Channel 95, an in-house TV station viewable by fellow University Village residents.

"Whenever there is any weather event, he is tireless in keeping on top of it and interacting with my leadership team so they're informed of what's going on," said Maria Sarver, University Village's executive director. "He was instrumental in keeping us up to date on Hurricane Irma, and he even gave a presentation in our community's meeting room to inform everyone on the storm. He provided us with an accurate prediction of Hurricane Irma and what we could expect here during the event."

And Leep shows no signs of slowing down.

"I really love what I do."

Contact Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez at hillsnews@tampabay.com.