In 1951, Nash Roberts ushered in a new front in local television
Every city can use a good weather forecaster, but when you live below sea level, it’s an absolute necessity. Fortunately for New Orleanians, they didn’t just get a good one but a great one when Nash Roberts signed on with WDSU-TV in 1951. Not only was he the first TV weatherman in the city, but he is recognized as the first in the South, setting a high bar as a pioneer in a profession that, come hurricane season, is as vital as any on-air position in local broadcasting.
Nowadays, computer models and fancy graphics replace Roberts’ trademark felt-tip marker and wall-mounted weather map. And, to their credit, the newer generation of TV forecasters know their business. But legends don’t come around often, and there will only be one Nash Roberts, who The Times-Picayune wrote in 2010, “might’ve been the most trusted man in New Orleans history.”
- Before getting into TV, Roberts served in the Navy during World War II, where he reportedly became the first meteorologist to plot a typhoon by flying into one.
- In 1946, Roberts started a private weathercasting service for local oil-and-gas companies. When he heard that a Chicago forecaster was earning $80,000 a year, he decided he was in the wrong business and signed on with WDSU.
- Roberts earned his reputation among local viewers by delivering dead-on landfall predictions for 1957’s Hurricanes Audrey, 1965’s Betsy and 1969’s Camille. Years later, he earned national attention for his ultimately accurate prediction — contrary to all computer models and other TV stations — that Hurricane Georges in 1998 would make landfall east of New Orleans.
- Roberts retired from daily broadcasts on WWL in 1984, but for years — through 2001 — he was pressed back into duty by the station whenever a major storm entered the Gulf of Mexico.
- Roberts was so trusted that the joke in his neighborhood was that nobody would evacuate ahead of a storm unless they looked out their window and saw his wife’s car was gone. As it turns out, the only time Roberts evacuated his family was ahead of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
- Though he started at WDSU, Roberts’ career would also take him to both WWL and WVUE, giving him the distinction of having broadcast for all three local major network affiliates.
Unlike modern TV meteorologists, Roberts’ forecasts were more credibility driven than personality driven. When a hurricane is bearing down on you, that counts for something. Nash wasn’t flashy, but he was calm. He was cool. He was comforting. But most importantly, he was knowledgeable. For generations of New Orleanians, only one question mattered when a hurricane drew near: “What’s Nash say?”