Paul Gross: Reflecting on my 40 years at WDIV

Paul will become the first ever Meteorologist Emeritus in station history

As most of you know by now, I am retiring from Local 4 after 40 years of living my childhood dream.

How blessed am I that I told my family at age seven that I wanted to be a “Channel 4 weatherman,” and then got to do exactly that for four decades! A colleague of mine in another city called me a “unicorn” for getting to spend my entire career at the same station, and I don’t take for granted what I’ve had the privilege of doing my entire adult life.

So how did I end up at WDIV? It all started in high school, when I used to call Barry Zevan, then the funny evening weatherman at Channel 2, and give him some clever puns to use (oh the irony…I’m about as funny as a plate of Jello). He actually used a bunch of my “material,” and I even got to come to the station and visit him occasionally.

Fast forward a few years to my time in the atmospheric science department at U of M, and I called Barry one day to say hi …except this time he had moved to Channel 4 and was doing the weather here. Barry told me that WDIV meteorologist Mal Sillars was looking to hire the first ever weather intern in station history and asked if I was interested. Is a dog interested in a steak? Is a bowler interested in a strike? Is a baseball player interested in a home run? OF COURSE I was interested! So, I had the privilege of spending the summer of 1981 here in our weather office, working with Mal and our other weatherman, Doug Hill, now of blessed memory. During that summer, we were one of the first stations in the country to get the first computer graphics weather display system.

Fast forward again to winter break between my final two semesters at U of M. I called WDIV news director Bob Warfield and told him I was graduating in the spring and looking for a job. Bob told me that it was fortuitous that I called, because he was considering creating an “experimental” weather position and I was at the top of his list because I already knew how to use the weather computer due to my internship. There were two noon newscasts in which they did not have anybody here to do the weather, so he wanted me to make a forecast, create some maps, and write scripts for the news anchors to read. The only problem is that he wanted me to start immediately. So, I commuted from Ann Arbor to the station and back every Monday and Tuesday morning during my final semester. Naturally, I missed a few classes, but I had a friend record those lectures on a tape recorder, and I caught up that night.

Over the next few years, I added the weekend on-air weather job at WLNS-TV6 in Lansing, as well as the back-up fill-in meteorologist role at WKBD-TV50 here in Detroit … I worked seven days a week for a one year, nine-month period…I only had twenty-one total days off during that period. But that’s called paying your dues. And by the way, Bob Warfield had to write a letter to the Channel 50 news director affirming that he had no problem with my working at both stations. That would never happen today! But it also tells you a lot about Bob…he saw some future potential and wanted me to get as much on-air experience as possible. The very fact that I even had a career here can be traced directly back to Bob Warfield. (The video below features my first on-air newscasts.)

And the rest, as they say, is history. Talk about good luck: I had the incredible fortune of two incredible mentors in Mal Sillars and Chuck Gaidica. They are two of the finest humans on the planet and taught me the tools I needed to succeed in a very harsh business. Many people during the course of my career have asked me if Mal and Chuck are “really” as great as they appear on TV. And my answer is the same every time: “Absolutely.” There is a lot of “he was in the right place at the right time” luck in my career, and the ability to work with Mal and Chuck is something I wish every broadcast meteorologist was as fortunate as I was to have this wealth of knowledge and experience to draw upon.

I’ve had the privilege to cover so many amazing stories over the years, and so many come to mind. As you probably know, history is a passion of mine, and I’ve had the opportunity to share some amazing historical stories with you.

Of course, spending three-and-a-half years researching the weather’s impact on D-Day, the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy on the French coast, and the subsequent half-hour program I wrote and produced (Chuck hosted it) for the 50th anniversary in June 1994 was my greatest project ever. That show is now part of the Museums of Television and Radio History in New York and Chicago, the British Meteorological Archives, and the official D-Day archives at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Kansas (meaning that it’s now part of our National Archives).

Similarly, I spent time researching how the weather impacted the Battle of the Bulge, one of World War II’s seminal battles, and that fascinating story ran in two parts here on Local 4.

More recently, I was the only member of Detroit’s media to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Michigan’s second deadliest tornado.

And I still get goosebumps about what I got to see (and hold) at U of M’s Clements and Bentley historical libraries. I’ll bet you never knew that one of the nation’s most important historical archives is right here in southeast Michigan.

I have also covered some very important stories, such as if DTE and its power grid is prepared to handle a strong solar eruption, and the United States Supreme Court’s ruling on a Michigan wetlands case.

You certainly know about my passion for science, and I’ve had the opportunity to report on so many of NASA’s amazing missions. One of the coolest moments in my career was getting to interview former U of M professors of mine for some of those stories…how meaningful it was to sit down for an interview with these men when, ten or fifteen years earlier, I was sitting in their offices asking questions about that day’s lecture. And I’ve probably interviewed more astronauts in space (aboard the old Space Shuttle, as well as the International Space Station) than anybody.

And there were fun stories, too. My flight with the Blue Angels was an incredible experience, and I ended that story with a funny aspect that really caught Local 4 news anchor Emery King off guard…I’ll never forget his on-camera reaction to that ending! (Watch that below)

And, as a certified sports nut, I tried to work the weather into many different kinds of sports stories … from Indy car racing to golf.

In fact, one of my most memorable stories came on the tenth anniversary of the opening of the TPC golf course in Dearborn. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus designed the course, and I wanted to interview him about the tremendous environmental job he did in saving the wetlands on what had previously been a wasted piece of land that people dumped in and off-roaded in. But I wasn’t going to be able to do that interview with the mass of sportscasters at his press conference. So, I touched base with a friend, Tom Lang, who was doing public relations for the Senior Players Championship, and he was able to get me a one-on-one interview with Jack. After he finished his press conference, all of the sports reporters in the tent then watched as Jack was then introduced to me and we went outside to shoot my interview with the course in the background. I’m sure they were all wondering how in the world the weather guy got the exclusive with Jack, and not them! (Watch that below)

Golf is one of my passions, and I’ve been privileged to also do one-on-one interviews about golf and weather with Tom Watson, Gary Player, Johnny Miller (who gave me a quick golf lesson), Fuzzy Zoeller, Gary McCord and, more recently, Bryson DeChambeau.

And one thing about all of these stories I’ve mentioned above (except for the Blue Angels story): I was not assigned any of them. They were my ideas, and I was fortunate enough to get permission to pursue them. Over the last third of my career, my biggest newsroom supporter was Matt Morawski … executive producer of our morning newscasts. He said “yes” to pretty much everything I pitched, and you’ve seen some pretty cool stories as a result. He deserves as much credit for those stories as I do.

So many memories over the past 40 years, and so many weather events, too. The Heat Wave and Drought of 1988. The Great Mid-Michigan Flood of 1993. The March 1997 ice storm. The July 1997 tornado that hit downtown Detroit. The big snowstorm on January 2nd, 1999 that shut down Metro Airport and left some people stranded on stuck planes for eight hours. The Dexter Tornado. The Dundee Tornado. The Great Flood of 2014 … I’ll never forget Tim Pamplin’s report on our 11 p.m. newscast showing water at the I-75 / I-696 interchange up to the bottom of the overpass, nor my live shots the next morning in hard hit Warren. The Super Bowl Sunday Snowstorm of 2015 … which really put a crimp on the one-day visitation after my father’s death (yes, that was the day). And, of course, those 500 and 1000-year floods in the summer of 2021.

There are so many more significant weather events that I’ve worked, but most of you probably identify me with being out in the morning newscast during or right after a big snowstorm. And to this day, people still comment to me about my Laser Snow Tests in those live shots twenty-five years ago (I would tell people about the laser I brought out with me to give you the most accurate assessment of the conditions, and then we’d pan the camera over to my Plymouth Laser, and I’d show how much show we had received since I got there at 3:30 a.m.).

Many people have asked me what retirement has in store for me. What many of you don’t know is that I’ve also done private meteorological consulting for the past thirty-seven years. Lawyers sometimes get cases where they need to know some weather facts … how much rain fell in what period of time … if a severe storm with large hail hit a particular area … if the weather conditions were such that ice would have developed, etc. This combination of meteorology and history is something I’ll continue to do for many years ahead. I’ll get back to my bowling and golf coaches to try and improve upon my semi-unprofessional skill in those sports.

I still have a big goal of joining the select company of those who have bowled a perfect game and shot a hole-in-one! Currently, I’m stuck at 299 on the lanes, and a tee shot to three feet on the course. Naturally, I’ll have a little more time to spend at our place up north…northern Michigan is the essence of Pure Michigan! And I’ll finally have time to polish and sand my Petoskey stones!

I’m grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had here at Local 4 over the past 40 years and look forward to new challenges in the years ahead! And by the way, I’ve been allowed to keep my Twitter account, so I’ll remain in touch with you as the big storms approach and keep reminding you that the 4Warn Weather App is the nation’s best weather app!

Finally, thank YOU for the privilege of being your meteorologist all these years.

I was a simple kid, with a simple goal. A weather nut with a passion to be a person people could rely upon for information that would help them plan … or perhaps save their life. And I made a career out of it in a business where a person with my looks and skills probably shouldn’t have succeeded. But I’m the perfect example of enthusiasm and drive overcoming shortcomings to achieve one’s ultimate dream.

Don’t ever let anybody tell you that something isn’t possible. It IS possible -- if you want it bad enough.

About the Author:

Local 4 meteorologist Paul Gross was born in Detroit and has spent his entire life and career right here in southeast Michigan. Paul has researched, written and produced eight half-hour documentaries for WDIV, as well as many science, historical and environmental stories.