David Finfrock, who has been part of the KXAS/Channel 5 weather team for 42 years and has been the station’s chief meteorologist since 1991, is stepping down from his post as chief, the station announced on-air Thursday morning.
The station isn’t using the ‘R’ word just yet to describe the meteorologist’s status, especially since he will continue contributing to the station. But Finfrock uses the word pretty quickly during an interview at the far east Fort Worth studios of the only station he’s ever worked for.
“Officially, I am retired,” Finfrock says. “That happened a little prematurely. My scheduled retirement date was June 1, but NBC announced some schedule changes in some of the retirement benefits, and it just made sense for me to move it up.”
Rick Mitchell will take over the chief-meteorologist slot. He will be only the third chief meteorologist in the station’s 70-year history, after Finfrock and the influential Harold Taft, who hired Finfrock in the ’70s.
When Mitchell joined NBC 5 in August 2012, the station made clear that the plan was to make him chief after Finfrock’s 2018 retirement.
You’ll see Finfrock on the station less — but you’ll still see him.
“Whenever [retirement] happened, I wasn’t going anywhere,” Finfrock says while sitting in a conference room decorated with photos of Taft, his mentor. “I’d already discussed with Mark Ginther, our news director, plans for me to work on a part-time basis for the foreseeable future.”
Finfrock, who became chief meteorologist when Taft died in 1991, says that he will work on-air 100 days during a calendar year. That could include coming in on severe-weather days, doing weather-related features or simply just filling in when other members of the weather team are on vacation.
“I told them when we first started discussing this that I didn’t want to come in just on severe-weather days,” Finfrock says, “because I don’t want to go months at a time without being on the air. I don’t want to get rusty. The schedule is going to be where I come in a couple of days a week.”
His new schedule will allow him to work on his ranch, do volunteer work and spend time with family. The couple of days a week is an average — if he’s filling in for someone, he might be on the air all five weekdays; if he’s traveling, he might not appear that week at all. And his new schedule frees him up to travel a lot, and he’s known for taking science-based vacations.
“I’ve done several Earthwatch expeditions, where I have done ecological studies on desert island in the Gulf of California off of Baja, I’ve done archaeological surveys on Mongolia and Easter Island,” he says. “And I also do a lot of volunteer work in the national parks here in Texas, both Guadalupe Mountains and Big Bend. I do one in the fall and one in the spring, and I hope to continue that.”
When Finfrock started at the station, he sometimes worked six-day weeks, but he would still find time to get out to state parks in North Texas, leaving after the noon Friday newscast.
“I’d camp at night, do some hiking the next morning and get back to work for the Saturday-evening shift,” he says. “I traveled to state parks all around North Texas. ... That was my way of getting outdoors and enjoying that fix, but also to learn the area. I think it was very important to travel through the counties that I was covering and learn what was there.”
That’s especially important to him in severe-weather situations. He’s been through many, but he still considers the May 5, 1995, hailstorm that injured dozens at Fort Worth’s Mayfest to be the most memorable.
“We had this tremendous hailstorm, softball-size hail pummeling people,” he says. “This was before we had amateur-radio groups out there providing information. People were caught unaware ... people didn’t have cellphones and there were hundreds injured by the hail. Fortunately, there were no mortalities there.”
And then he recalls a part of that night that many people forget.
“As the storm moved into Dallas, it slowed down,” he says. “The squall line caught up with this single supercell, and it produced over 5 inches of rain in one hour. It’s the most catastrophic flood I have seen in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 42 years. There were about 20 fatalities that night, mostly from flash-flooding in Dallas.”
Finfrock started in a three-network era, before there was a Fox, a CW, a Weather Channel or an explosion of cable networks. Interaction with viewers happened, but it was more limited than it is now, when meteorologists often will do Facebook Live segments during severe-weather situations and viewers can react directly and immediately (and not always positively) via Facebook and Twitter.
“When I started back in the mid-’70s, we’d get the occasional phone call or even a hand-written letter,” he says. “I would usually type out my response and mail it back to them. Things have changed considerably with social media.”
But it’s the technological changes that impress him most: When Taft hired him in 1975 (Finfrock did not appear on-air till early 1976), weather reports were done with Magic Markers on paper maps. Now, Finfrock points out, they involve computer-graphic elements that can zoom in on particular neighborhoods.
“I think what would surprise Harold more than anything about all the changes we’ve seen,” he says, picking up the iPhone being used to record this interview, “is that now you can walk around with a radar in your pocket.”
Finfrock says he doesn’t remember exactly how many news directors — “probably seven or eight” — he’s been through at the station, but that’s in part because Taft hired him.
“I didn’t even pay attention at the beginning,” he says. “I didn’t even know who the news director was. Because I was hired by Harold Taft. I worked for Harold Taft. I got a paycheck from Harold E. Taft and Associates my first two years here. As a result, my only interaction with management was through Harold.
“And then we did have a news director come in who discovered that there were people on the air who didn’t work for him. He didn’t like that too much, and that’s when I finally got on a salary basis with the station.”
Bobbie Wygant, the station’s longtime entertainment reporter, likes to says that she was “poured in with the foundation” of the station, which she’s been associated with for nearly 70 years. Finfrock doesn’t have a similar metaphor for his lengthy tenure but he says that Wygant is his role model.
“Mark Ginther, our news director, says that I can stay as long as I want,” Finfrock says. “I’ll stay as long as I enjoy it. One of the things that keeps me coming back is the fact that I enjoy the work. The other is that I enjoy my co-workers. Most of my friends are here, because these are the people I’ve spent 40 years with. I would hate to just walk out the doors, leave the keys and never come back.”