Sunny, Warm and Sue: Fox 5's Always Cheerful Forecaster
Butters, Pat, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Sue Palka says her celebrity as WTTG Fox 5's weather forecaster comes from just being around for more than 10 years.
"People would say, `You look like someone I know,' " she says, seated before a variety of video screens. "Or they'd say, `Did you do a Tupperware demonstration in Kensington about two months ago?'
"Now I can go out, looking like a troll, which I actually enjoy doing, with the glasses on and not fix myself up, au naturel, and people know me by my voice."
Well, she owes her popularity to a bit more than that. Nominated for six local Emmys, she finally won this year as best weather forecaster. She says she has worked hard to become more than what she calls "a weather bimbo" or "set decoration."
And it's not just for her command of the Doppler radar system that she's liked, or for her authoritative delivery; her snappy, double-breasted suits; her fresh, pretty face; or that alluring, husky voice.
It's that ever-elusive joie de vivre that gives Mrs. Palka her uniqueness. The Channel 5 weather forecaster laughs a lot. She's a toucher. (She apologizes for lightly touching your knee to make a point. No problem, Sue . . . really.)
It's 10 a.m., and with raindrops the size of water balloons pouring outside, Mrs. Palka has her coffee, and she's happy.
"This morning, I immediately looked out to see if I could see any rain," she says cheerfully, "because I said yesterday it would be raining and I wanted to see the rain."
This is not the grumpy Bill Murray weather forecaster from the film "Groundhog Day."
Mrs. Palka bubbles over about going every year to the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pa. It's as if she were talking about chasing down hurricanes in North Carolina.
"You're going to think I'm a nut. I can tell you where the groundhog is at this moment," she says in her staccato delivery. "I'm from western Pennsylvania, and one of my routes takes me right through Punxsutawney, and the kids always want to stop and see the groundhog.
"It's the saddest thing; he's just in this little cave in the public library with all these little smudge marks and fingerprints on the windows.
"So every Groundhog Day I say," she says in a falsetto, widening her brown eyes and grimacing, " `And remember, the rest of the year, he's in the library!' "
No matter where she goes, people ask her about the weather. (Sometimes, she says, almost lowering her voice, people seem obligated to ask.) If Mrs. Palka doesn't know, she says with a laugh, people resent it. And if the forecast is wrong - if a jet stream moves clouds in earlier than expected, for example - she says she owes it to viewers simply to explain why.
"Despite all the wonderful advances we've made in weather, people still think it should be right 100 percent of the time," Mrs. Palka says, estimating that 95 percent is reasonable. "And they don't realize it's a prediction.
"I mean, our sports guys can go on and say, `I think the Redskins could win it, maybe by as many as 10 points.' But no one expects them to nail the score night after night, yet they expect us to."
She says, with a laugh, that she does feel as if it's her fault, though she knows it isn't.
"It's Catholic guilt, what can I do?" she says. More evidence comes later when, on another subject, she stops to ask, "That's not too boring, is it? …