One of the most distinguished members of the Northwest meteorological establishment, Jeff Renner, retired from KING TV on Friday, and his on-air presence will be missed. Those of us in the Puget Sound weather community have come to depend on Jeff as one of our most visible and effective members, and this blog will tell some stories that may not be generally known about Jeff, including his substantial service to the University of Washington and my department.
Jeff came to KING TV as a general reporter in 1977, but became the weather anchor and science lead in 1980. When St. Helens exploded in May 1980, his in-depth coverage of the event made him well-known throughout the region. I started at the UW in late 1981 and quickly got to know Jeff at local weather gatherings.
He was not satisfied being a TV weathercaster, without a weather background. Jeff was determined to become a real meteorologist and to secure a degree in atmospheric sciences. And he was willing to take years of math and physics courses that were the first step before entering a degree program, such as the one we offer at the UW.
I was really impressed. And during the next few years, he was good to his word. He fulfilled all the responsibilities of his KING TV job while taking years of technical prerequisites before entering the UW atmospheric sciences program, which he completed successfully. I enjoyed having Jeff in the senior forecasting class, where he was one the best students.
Jeff developed a reputation as someone who not only had an excellent delivery (and a voice more appropriate for an Olympian god) but a dedication to bring science and education into his message, frequently evincing the knowledge he had gained at the UW as well as an excellent intuition about the weather. At regional meetings, like the Northwest Weather Conference, you could always be sure Jeff would be in attendance taking notes.
But then a setback occurred in his career. A new news director at KING decided that a flashy female presence would be beneficial to ratings and Jeff was let go. Many of us in the weather community protested to KING management (his replacement had no degree in meteorology was making serious technical errors), but it was the unhappiness of the viewers and their demand for Jeff's return that led to his triumphal reinstatement a year later.
During his year off, Jeff applied his formidable communications skills to enter a new sideline: forensic meteorological consulting. Many don't know that meteorologists are often hired to do research and testify in court cases, something I have done as well. There is no better way to find out how weather is influencing people's lives in a serious way. Jeff rapidly become well known in this endeavor: he and I have even on the opposite sides for some lawsuits.
Jeff is an uber outdoorsman: a frequent hiker, sailor, and pilot, among others. He combined several of these interests with writing to produce a series of popular books on weather for outdoors enthusiasts.
And he didn't stop there. Over the years, Jeff created a number of excellent educational 1-hr specials on meteorological topics.
During the last several years, Jeff understood the importance of the developing technology of high-resolution weather prediction and arranged to secure a real-time feed of the UW's super high-resolution WRF output for KING TV , with this information translated into compelling graphical products known as FutureCast (see below).
Finally, Jeff has been a huge friend to the UW. During the years, a number of atmospheric sciences students interested in TV weather have interned at KING 5, gaining invaluable experiment that led to successful careers for several (such as the redoubtable Shannon O'Donnell and MJ McDermott). When the department had special evening lectures for the community, Jeff often was the MC, skillfully guiding the evening, providing wonderful intros for the speakers, and gentling asking for community support at the end.
Jeff retired this week, along with a number of other veterans of KING TV, a sign of downscaling of stations shrinking as TV newscasts become less popular as web access to information gains ascendance.
But I suspect we have not heard the last from Jeff. He has never been better as a communicator and his creative abilities are undiminished. Improving models and internet capabilities do not mean that people don't require an experienced, knowledgeable voice to help them interpret and act upon the huge amount of environmental information that is flooding them. It is more important than ever and I expect Jeff has some ideas for the future.