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Weatherman Bob Harris Was Only Off One Degree, but the Mistake Nearly Cost Him His Career

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For New York weatherman Bob Harris, January 18 was a day to remember. “It was windy and very cold,” he recalls, “but it couldn’t match the terror in my soul.” Before the day was out, Harris was fired as meteorologist for both the New York Times and WCBS radio in New York. After 10 years as a professional weatherman, Harris had been caught in a serious lie. He had never earned the doctorate in geophysics from Columbia University that he had claimed. In fact, he had nothing but a high school diploma. “I was so ashamed,” says Harris, 39. “I was publicly disgraced. I went from $75,000 a year to zip. I had lost everything.”

A native New Yorker, Harris grew up fascinated by hurricanes and thunderstorms. After marrying his high school sweetheart, Judith, he took a variety of college science courses and worked odd jobs to help her through college and graduate school. Then, at 27, he began to feel life was passing him by. He presented himself to CBS meteorologist Gordon Barnes and within an hour was hired for a tryout. “Why I ever dreamed I could pull it off I’ll never know,” Harris admits. “Let’s just say I had a combination of chutzpah and stupidity.” Eight weeks later he went on the air as Dr. Bob Harris. “Nobody ever asked for credentials,” he explains, “and I was thrilled to get the chance. Of course, if I hadn’t known what I was doing I would have gotten caught like gangbusters.”

Ironically, even after his dismissal, following an anonymous letter to his CBS bosses, no one questioned Harris’ competence. Desolated, he made a public apology on the Today show. Then, unexpectedly, the Long Island Rail Road decided to retain him as its forecaster, and radio station WNEW offered him another chance on the air. “I could look at this with a jaundiced eye and say, ‘They just want to hype their ratings,’ ” says Harris. “I prefer to think they believe in my ability.” Today he broadcasts forecasts daily from his Oakland, N.J. home and appears weekends on local TV. “When I was fired it was like getting hit with a bat,” he recalls. “It takes some people five years of analysis to go through the catharsis I’ve experienced in three weeks.”