Tom Brokaw had a problem. The NBC anchorman was trying to stretch his on-the-air interview past the three minutes promised by Dr. Neil Frank, head meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane Gloria, after all, was turning into this year’s Storm of the Century as it churned up the Eastern seaboard, and Dr. Frank had the latest facts. Trouble was, the good doctor just didn’t have the extra time for Brokaw. When America’s weather goes berserk, everyone wants to hear from Dr. Frank, who would give 255 such interviews during Gloria’s three-day trek—to network bigs, to small-town broadcasters, to anyone willing to stand in line.
You’ve got to hand it to Dr. Frank: The man loves a good megastorm. To a growing legion of fans, his breezy, upbeat style is better comfort in bad weather than rain gear and galoshes. Perched before a bank of video terminals at his headquarters in Coral Gables, Fla., the 54-year-old meteorologist seems to bubble over with happiness as he plots the storm’s path for TV viewers. There is no arcane weatherspeak, no gobbledygook about low-pressure systems or swirling rotational winds. Dr. Frank always tells it like it is, whether the news is terrible or just bad. Says an admiring colleague: “He’s a natural communicator. He simply discusses the differences in tides and wind speeds as if it were a dinnertime discussion.”
And for Dr. Frank, it probably is. Born in Kansas’ tornado alley, he learned his meteorology in the Air Force, collected a Ph.D. from Florida State University and, after 13 years at the Hurricane Center, became its director in 1974. Though he delivers 150 speeches a year sharing his hurricane expertise with governors’ councils, yacht clubs, Rotary groups and others, he still manages to jog five miles a day. A father of three, he has been married for 33 years to his childhood sweetheart, the only girl he ever dated. He is also a born-again Christian who says he came to his beliefs when he felt he had failed to prove to himself that God didn’t exist. “I wanted to stop going to church so I could play golf on Sunday mornings,” he explains. The green’s loss is the screen’s gain.