In a blog last September I said, “I suppose no one at The Weather Channel is indispensable, but the person who comes the closest is Steve Lyons.”
Now, amidst gnashing of teeth and rending of garments by those who know Steve well, he’s leaving the channel. I for one–and not the only one–see this as a devastating blow to the network.
For almost a decade now, The Weather Channel has been careening down a slippery slope, sliding away from hard-core meteorology (and truly keeping viewers “ahead of the weather”) into the noxious vat of “infotainment.”
Steve in particular was one of the few who had a lifeline tied around the network. With his departure, the line will fray to the point of snapping. The Weather Channel’s television operation will be on the verge of plunging so deep into the infotainment quagmire it will be stripped of its distinctiveness, its unique identity.
Hurricane coverage has been the channel’s lifeblood. The network rose to prominence largely on the shoulders of the legendary John Hope, the channel’s original hurricane expert. Steve joined forces with John in 1998. In essence, Steve and John became the face of The Weather Channel to tens of millions of viewers when the Hugos and Andrews and Katrinas roared in from the Atlantic and Gulf.
John, who passed away in 2002, brought his extensive experience to the channel; Steve, his vast intellect. I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of great professionals over the last 50 years, and I can honestly say in terms of insights and knowledge regarding storm surge, water rise, wave action and the thermodynamics of hurricanes, nobody was as impressive as Steve Lyons.
Steve possesses not only a staggering amount of wisdom, but he tells it like it is. On the air, if a storm wasn’t worth being hyped, he wouldn’t hype it. If he didn’t buy into the “official” advisories or warnings being issued for a particular system, he wouldn’t promote them.
His focus, he told me repeatedly over the years, was on public service. He wanted desperately to convey the impacts of hurricanes before they hit, not during or after. On the air, he was competent, confident and composed.
Like your tough best friend in a barroom brawl, Steve was the kind of guy you wanted to have your back when the greatest storms on earth came-a-calling.
Can he be replaced? Yes and no. I’m sure The Weather Channel has found someone who is engaging, knowledgeable and skilled to fill the hurricane expert’s position. But I doubt seriously they’ve found someone who possesses Steve’s singular prescience and extraordinary credentials.
Consider just a few of the awards with which Steve has been honored over the past several months: the prestigious Neil Frank Award (at the National Hurricane Conference); The Dick Fletcher Media Award (at the Florida Governors’ Hurricane Conference); the Annual Steve Lyons [yes, named after him] Emergency Management Public Service Award (at the annual New Jersey EM conference); and the 2009 Weather Hero Award (from the Storm Research Institute).
These awards reflect the recognition of a man The Weather Channel should never have let get away.
So why is Steve leaving? In a word, he felt increasingly marginalized. The slippery slope, remember? He, like other seasoned meteorologists at the channel, sensed the drift away from a committed focus on weather and began to wonder about his future there. When an opportunity came to get onto the pointy end of the spear of public service again as the Meteorologist-in-Charge of the San Angelo, Texas, National Weather Service Office, he snatched it.
Oh, The Weather Channel will survive. The Web operation, especially, is thriving and will continue to do so. But when hurricane season arrives, without the extraordinary insights of Steve Lyons, I’m convinced the television network will founder in a sea of mediocrity.
Viewers will find the once venerated channel can offer nothing different, nothing value-added, from what can be found on CNN or Fox… or by merely reading the bulletins issued by The National Hurricane Center.
Best of luck, Steve. I, and few million others, will sorely miss your presence on The Weather Channel. And my prediction is, The Weather Channel will, too.
Photo: Dr. Steve Lyons at work at The Weather Channel in 2008.
Steve is leaving The Weather Channel at the end of this month. It’s a change I think is a huge negative for the network.