Fargo, N.D., has the worst weather in the country. At least according to viewers of the Weather Channel, who annually vote it into the “final four,” often beating out perennial favorites Fairbanks, Alaska; International Falls, Minn.; and Caribou, Maine. The city knocks down its residents with a one-two-three punch of powerful blizzards, extreme cold, and spring floods. Once, Fargo even had one of this country’s most powerful tornadoes.
If there’s any comfort in all of that, it’s John Wheeler.
John (’84 meteorology) is a television weatherman who’s been providing rational, science-based forecasts to citizens of Fargo since 1985.
John knows all kinds of weather; he was born in Louisiana, raised in Alabama, and moved to the Midwest – Madison, Wis., and West Union, Iowa – during his high school years.
At Iowa State, he rejected the minutiae of his engineering classes and moved into meteorology.
“Weather is ‘big picture,’” John says. “It’s so sensible. It’s ‘Is it going to rain on me today?’ That was more appealing to me. It had never occurred to me until I got to Iowa State that I could be a TV meteorologist.”
After graduating in 1984 and meeting his wife-to-be, Emily Williams (’86 interior design) on the Richardson Court paint crew, John joined the staff of WDAY, the ABC affiliate in Fargo.
The combination of being so far north and being so flat makes Fargo the “blizzard country of America.” (“With the exception of western and northern Alaska, we have more blizzards here in the Fargo area than anyplace else in the U.S.” John says. “It’s the windiest, non-mountain, Class 1 weather station in the United States.”)
“It’s also just dang cold,” he says.
If you mention rival-cold-city International Falls, John bristles.
“International Falls gets the sexy low temperatures – you know, the 45 belows. We don’t get those lows. But International Falls gets warm in the daytime, and there’s no wind. We have a lot of days here in the winter where it’s in the 20s below in the afternoon.
“It’s remarkably colder than Iowa was,” he continued. “I was really surprised at that. I used to think Iowa was cold. And I didn’t like cold weather when I lived there. I’ve moved up here and learned to embrace it.”
John walks to the TV station – and to the North Dakota State University campus, where he teaches classes in meteorology – year round because, he says, as a meteorologist he should experience the weather he’s predicting.
He says his job never gets old, because every day there’s a new problem: What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow? And because a broadcast meteorologist has to be not only accurate but entertaining, he has to be a good communicator.
And people in Fargo always complain about the weather.
“They get really crabby,” he says.