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Originally published Friday, February 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Winds of change for weather guy Andy Wappler

Is it going to rain tomorrow? Don't bother asking Andy Wappler, who's now more likely to talk "renewable energy targets" and "compact fluorescent...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Is it going to rain tomorrow?

Don't bother asking Andy Wappler, who's now more likely to talk "renewable energy targets" and "compact fluorescent bulbs" instead of sunbreaks and cold fronts.

Because Wappler, 43, has shed his TV weathercasting garb and manner — jacket-and-tie; frozen smiles — for jeans and button-downs. After nearly six years as chief meteorologist at KIRO-TV and a total of 14 years at the station delivering the weather, Wappler has left broadcasting for a public-relations job with Puget Sound Energy (PSE).

For the first time in 33 years, KIRO won't have a Wappler-helmed weathercast. Before Andy Wappler (and before Doppler radar) there was genial dad Harry, who first arrived to KIRO in 1969; left in 1972 for a stint at a New York station; then returned to KIRO in 1975 until he retired six years ago.

Now it's Andy Wappler's turn at a life off-camera, an occurrence triggered both by KIRO management and the meteorologist agreeing it was time for change.

Back in September, meteorologist Rebecca Stevenson left rival KING-TV to reportedly take Wappler's chief meteorologist job at the station, although at the time KIRO would not confirm this.

Because of a noncompete clause Stevenson was barred from appearing on a local broadcast until at least April.

Wappler's final day at KIRO was Feb. 15, and since then the station has acknowledged Stevenson will begin work there next month. Wappler's departure from KIRO, according to a station spokeswoman, was nothing but amicable.

"He really cared about what he does, and he cares about what he's going to do," adds news director Todd Mokhtari. Wappler, the station officials say, has moved on to a great gig.

The ex-meteorologist would agree with that characterization. The job's only weeks old, but he's already had an actual weekday off — the President's Day holiday, which he got to tease his former news colleagues about.

"He's incredibly sly with a dry sense of humor," anchor Steve Raible says. "I'm really going to miss him."

But the wonky Wappler also enthuses about connecting his weather expertise with the issue of climate change and encouraging folks to adopt a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

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TV and PSE

He's begun living the lifestyle he's about to preach. During an interview at his home earlier this week, Wappler showed off an embryonic light-bulb museum: a box stuffed with watt-guzzling bulbs that have since been replaced with more energy efficient ones.

He also showed off some old PSE bills which note how significantly his household energy use has dropped in just one year.

"It was a fear of heights that drove me to change the first bulb," he explained. He hated having to climb a ladder to replace the bulb outside his front door, so he was mostly looking for a light source that would last longer.

Then he noticed the smaller energy bills. More bulbs got swapped. The computer in his den got powered off. The cellphone charger got unplugged.

"I was amazed. You can make a big difference and still live your life."

His wife of 17 years, Kristen, works for PSE, and in the minds of their two young girls there were only two places where adults worked: the energy company and TV.

He says he wasn't told ahead of time that Stevenson was getting his job, only that management last year told him they planned to make some changes.

"When I knew [that], it made me very interested in exploring other possibilities," he says.

"KIRO had been a part of my life since I was 4, and it's allowed three generations of my family to live a nice life. On the other hand, I had done all I could do. The big story. Yukking it up. Writing profiles." The number of weather forecasts he estimates he's predicted: 40,000.

He might have been destined to do the weather, but that's not how his career initially tracked. "You think, 'Well, if that's what your parents do, how interesting could it be?' "

A sunny outlook

First came one year of law school at the University of Washington. Then he switched to journalism at Northwestern. Mom Mary had also been a journalist and figured her son, liking the news, would enjoy the field.

He worked as a TV news reporter in Yakima then took a reporting job in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, staying just six days because his missed Kristen, his then-fiancée. He worked for a local PR group and then went to Boeing as a speechwriter. For a local who adored planes as well as crafting sentences, it was a great gig.

And as it turned out, his job — which included pitching newspaper editorials — led him to KIRO. After he took issue with a Wall Street Journal article about how executives don't need speechwriters, Wappler wrote a letter to the editor, and someone at KIRO spotted it. Is he related to you? a station exec asked Harry Wappler. We're looking for a Boeing reporter.

Andy Wappler arrived at the station in 1994 and soon moved from news to the weather. The learning curve was steep. "I really wish I had paid more attention to my dad talking about clouds on all those family trips," he says. But he enjoyed it. "As a reporter you need to keep yourself out of stories, but now I could be myself. Crack a joke. It's like the difference between a reporter and a columnist."

Looking back it was Dad, Wappler points out, who experienced the golden age of local TV news, when the number of channels totaled three (instead of in the hundreds), and it was important to stay up until 11 p.m. if you wanted to know the goings-on in the world.

Now there's the Internet, even the iPhone giving you the weather. And with more competition for viewers comes increased pressure about how to deliver a newscast, he says.

Wappler isn't bitter. KIRO, he notes, is full of people committed to doing good work, and there are instances when local TV news soars. The 2007 winter storm, for example. "A great moment for TV to take people into other people's lives," he says about the coverage of the Chehalis River floods.

Whether criticism of Andy Wappler is justified — that he wasn't his dad; that he was too stiff — it doesn't matter anymore. Wappler says he thinks he did a good job at KIRO and that he tried to make every forecast interesting and relevant. During my career, "I had three owners, five general managers, 17 different news directors, but I only had one boss: the person at home."

He's been blissfully unaware of the weather this past week, he says.

What he won't miss about his old job? Reciting the phrase, "Good evening, we're on storm watch."

"I think it's going to hit me more that he's no longer on TV," dad Harry, a loyal viewer, says. "It's fun to have your son on television where you can turn him off. A great advantage there."

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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