Perhaps no other New Orleans television personality was as trusted and revered as Nash Charles Roberts Jr. He was an occasional resident of St. Tammany Parish, enjoying his cattle ranch north of Covington when he had the time, although most of the time he was a resident of Metairie.
A video of Nash Roberts talking about the approach of Hurricane Andrew in 1992
St. Tammany, New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast felt a significant loss when Nash died December 18, 2010 after a lengthy illness at age 92.
Nash was the "go-to" weather forecaster for just about everyone in the Gulf Coast area, known for his accurate predictions of weather patterns, hurricane tracks, and down-home advisor on when to take your umbrellas. Due to his professional, calm, and dignified on-air personality, he became a New Orleans area institution.
Nash's weather expertise was built on experience, first-hand observation, and a gut instinct developed over many years. He became a New Orleans area meteorologist widely known for the accuracy of his hurricane forecasts with a career span of more than 50 years.
According to a news story by WWL-TV, his original career ambition was to become a pilot, which also required him to study meteorology. He earned his pilot’s wings along with his federal license as a meteorological instructor, and began teaching that specialized science at Loyola University New Orleans in 1940.
When World War II broke out, the U.S. Navy recruited Roberts to serve as an aeronautics instructor. In 1943, he was sent to Florida’s Banana River Naval Air Station to learn about emerging radar technology.
After navigating night patrol searches for German U-boats in the Atlantic, he was transferred to the Pacific theater. In April 1945, Roberts was selected to serve as both navigator and meteorologist aboard Admiral Chester Nimitz’s aircraft carrier. Roberts would make history there, as the first meteorologist to fly into the eye of a typhoon, to chart its course.
The Navy had been looking for a way to sail a carrier fleet close enough to the Japanese main islands to execute an air attack, without first being detected. “I don’t know who came up with the idea, but there was the thought that maybe we could sail in behind a typhoon, and that would jam the Japanese radar and ground all of their search aircraft,” Roberts recalled.
“We embarked on an experimental flight from Guam to the Philippines. I was to navigate through the eye of this typhoon for the purpose of gathering meteorological data,” he said.
In 1946, Roberts returned home to New Orleans, took his $3,500 in saved Navy pay and opened a weather consulting office downtown – the first in the south. Roberts’ clients were oil companies, barge diving, fishing companies and members of the maritime industry. “Every day we had something big going on, where something hinged on the weather,” Roberts recalled in a 2001 interview with WWL-TV anchor Angela Hill. “It surely kept you on your toes and kept you awake at night.
The private weathercasting service was utilized by Texaco and other clients in the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico. He would develop weather forecasts that pinpointed what the oil industry needed to know. With that meteorological consulting business, he became internationally known for his accuracy.
He first appeared on Channel Six, WDSU-TV, in New Orleans on October 1, 1951, the first full-time weathercaster in the region. It was a relationship that would span 22 years, with his calm presentation during hurricanes and other weather events earning him a dedicated audience.
The phrase "What does Nash say?" grew into an area mantra whenever storms approached. People recall that he was the only local forecaster to accurately predict the paths of Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and Hurricane Camille in 1969, forecasts that were a result of his many years of experience.He left WDSU in 1973, and a year later joined Channel 8, WVUE-TV. He was there for four years, then switched to WWL-TV, Channel 4.
His other business interests and the demands of a daily weather program prompted him to begin turning over some of the on-air time to other meteorologists. Even after his retirement in 1984, he would be called in as a special consultant whenever hurricanes threatened the New Orleans area.
Clicking on the video above shows his final regular broadcast in 1984 after 32 years as the longest running person on television in the history of broadcasting.
Nash was known for his direct to-the-point reports, accompanied by a wall-charts and sliding maps in the background, using a felt-tip marker to draw in cold fronts, wind directions, and temperatures. He had maps that pulled down like window shades and maps that slid in from side to side as his weather report progressed. Even when digital graphics took over many of the weather forecast programs, he kept his black marker and dry-erase maps handy.
Roberts finally retired from even his special hurricane appearances in 2001. He donated his papers to Loyola University, New Orleans, those being the worksheets he had used to forecast hurricanes since the 1940's. He was honored with numerous awards and citations over the years, including induction into the New Orleans Broadcasting Hall of Fame and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Press Club of New Orleans. In 1984, Loyola University presented Roberts with an honorary doctorate in science.
Roberts, whose diverse list of hobbies included beekeeping, fishing, hunting and spending time on his large ranch in St. Tammany Parish, was also a founding board member and former chairman of the board of WYES-TV, New Orleans’ first public television station. He also served for several years on the state Board of Education.
It was news when he and his wife evacuated from the area in the advance of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In reference to leaving to get out of Katrina's way, he was quoted as saying, "For the first time in 60 years, I evacuated. I was pretty sure the thing was coming in here. What convinced me that I better get out was the fact that I knew it was going to be a wet system. It was huge in size, driving a lot of water ahead of it. With my wife, with the condition she's in, I said, 'We'd better get out of here.' ''
Sources: NOLA.com, WWL-TV Wikipedia
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