Many TV meteorologists have a weather-epiphany story that dates back to childhood: They lived through a hurricane, or a tornado, or wanted to conquer a fear of severe weather and got curious, and pursued that curiosity from the time they were in elementary school.
Keisha Burns, who has primarily done the weekend-morning weather at KXAS/Channel 5 since February 2017 and appears on weekdays as well, took a different path to meteorology and Texas.
She was a reporter and anchor first, in markets such as Cheyenne, Wyo., and Bend, Ore., and her weather interest developed while she was a general-assignment reporter. Or, rather, re-developed.
“When I was young, I watched the Weather Channel religiously, and I always thought, ‘Hey, I really want to do that,’ “ Burns says, who grew up in Pomona, in the Los Angeles area. “When I got my first job, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I started getting used to weather patterns I wasn’t accustomed to in California. So ... I started to branch into weather, because it was unique, it was really different, I thought it’d be more challenging for me.”
The interest in journalism has been there since childhood, although Burns describes herself as shy and TV wasn’t her first choice.
“I had honors English classes, and my teachers were always encouraging me to be a writer,” she says. “I started to branch into journalism, but I was afraid to get in front of the camera, so I did radio initially, and then newspaper.
“When I started getting into the thick of things, I thought, ‘Let me just try television and see what it’s like,’ and I ended up loving it.”
In Bend, which is roughly 160 miles south of Portland, she began to pursue meteorology more strongly. She was a general-assignment reporter at KTVZ, and the station’s meteorologist, Bob Shaw, encouraged her interest in weather.
And there was one story that helped cinch the decision to move from field reporting to being a part of a weather team.
“A man had committed homicide,” she says. “He had murdered his wife. I was sent alone to cover this story, and I was the photographer. ... They sent me to this house, and I get there, and it wasn’t taped up or anything. Unfortunately, everything was still inside, and I approached the door, and just seeing the blood on the windows, and then I realized that there was blood in the parking lot. Being a part of that, that was very memorable for me. It made me not only fearful, but it had me rethinking, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’ That’s when I really started thinking, ‘Maybe I do want to get to do weather instead.’ “
We talked about all that and more with Burns for this latest edition of “Meet the Meteorologist.” Below is an edited version of the conversation.
Before the green screen
“I worked at CVS for eight years before I got into the business, all throughout college. I actually interned there when I was 14, and they hired me, because they thought I was really fast and really good, at 15.”
First green-screen experience
“[In Bend], I was initially a field reporting, general-assignment reporter. The meteorologist there, because I was also into weather, said ‘Why don’t we put you in front of the green screen so you can see what it’s like?’ I thought you were actually reading something. I had no idea it was all ad-lib. So I thought, ‘Oh, yes, this is what I’ve always wanted to do.’ Little did I know, with all ad-lib and you had two minutes — it was a little awkward, because I’m advancing through these weather maps and trying to fill time for two minutes. But I kept practicing and got used to it and it became second nature to me.”
Most memorable weather event
“I worked in Seattle [at NWCN-TV and KING 5-TV] for seven years, and I would say [it was] when we had the first snowstorm that I really experienced there. I’d experienced snowstorms in Cheyenne and Bend, but this was different, living in a city. It was memorable for me because I was not used to that. We had at least 3 inches in downtown, and covering that was overwhelming, because everybody had questions or was e-mailing us: ‘How many inches are you expecting?’ I was very new to the city and it was very overwhelming for me to experience that — let alone, getting around in it. I’d never seen snow to that magnitude.”
On handling severe-weather coverage
“The secret I’ve learned here, because this is my first real severe-weather market, is try to be organized. It can be very overwhelming, trying to keep up with the chats an all the severity [of weather] for different neighborhoods. We all have our roles here, and my role is usually social media. So I try to be organized: ‘What can I tweet here? What can I write? What kind of article can I put out?’ It’s all about ... trying to get out the information as soon as possible, quickly and efficiently, being succinct and to the point for the viewers so they can understand what’s going on right away.”
Favorite weather song
“I love ‘It Never Rains in Southern California’. It’s one of my favorite songs.’ “
Favorite weather movie
“I would say ‘Twister.’ I remember watching that many, many years ago. Where I’m from, that kind of stuff I’m not used to. So I thought, ‘Wow, one day, maybe I’ll be a stormchaser.’ My parents were like, ‘Are you sure?’ [Laughs.] But that stood out to me.” [Note: Rick Mitchell, NBC 5’s chief meteorologist, appears in ‘Twister’, which was filmed when he was still working at KOCO in Oklahoma City. He is billed as “TV meteorologist #3.”]
The secret life of a meteorologist
“I love skiing. I love the outdoors but I’m really big on skiing, I go someplace every year, someplace new in February. I love biking and skiing. I’ve been to Aspen, I love Canada, Whistler. I love traveling, going anywhere that’s ... very beautiful. I try to stay mostly toward the West Coast. I always try to find a new habitat, because when I was a reporter starting out, I couldn’t do that. I was always so busy and had so many jobs, so I didn’t get to experience all the skiing in Bend and when I lived in other places. So now I try to take advantage of it.”