“What’s the weather gonna do?” Not only is this the question that 70-year-old Mobile native John Edd Thompson has been answering for more than 40 years, it’s also one of 17 titles on his 2009 country music album “Love Can Grow.” Singer, songwriter, broadcast meteorologist and cultural icon are just a few of the designations John Edd has earned over the course of his prestigious career. He even had a brief stint in the film industry with cameos in movies like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) and “Soultaker” (1990). In the midst of hurricane season, MB catches up with the local celebrity.
I was in school at the University of Alabama where I was majoring in journalism. I initially decided I liked the idea of doing something in radio. Back then, the degree was called “radio and TV, ” and it was in the College of Arts and Sciences. I went on to gain radio experience at WNPT in Tuscaloosa, WARF in Jasper and then WTUF and WABB here in Mobile. As far as meteorology is concerned, I tell people I did not choose it; it chose me.
The first TV station I worked at in Mobile was WKRG News 5. At the time, I was doing a country music show called TV-5 Party Line. They asked me if I could do the weather, and I said, “I don’t know.” It was definitely a trial by fire. I ended up at FOX10 soon after, and within six months I was doing weekend weather segments. Eventually, I moved to weekly weather. After almost 10 years, they gave me the option of taking some weather courses at Mississippi State and said, “You will pass these courses.”
When I first started forecasting weather, we used a grease pencil and drew our fronts on a glass pane by hand. Now, there’s nothing physical behind you when you forecast other than the Chroma key wall (or “green screen”). There are also about a dozen computers in a weather office. Each one has a different task, including looking at cloud maps, projections, etc. You can’t just adjust to new software; you have to learn it.”
Someone who has a four-year degree in meteorology will never figure out the Bay area’s weather. There are several anomalies. Pascagoula, for example, is always four or five degrees colder than Mobile, even though they’re so close together. I try to tell this to the young weather guys, but they never believe me.
My advice for aspiring meteorologists: Strive to do well on your internships. Prove to your leader that you can write, edit and do your job well. If you’re good at your job, you will be recognized for it.
I’ve dabbled in music for more than 30 years now. I write with several people in Nashville. Every November, we have the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Perdido Key and Pensacola. We usually see more than 200 people from the area come out to perform. Mobile is becoming a great city for local music.
text by Joshua D. Givens • photo by Amanda Roberds