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Meet the Weatherman, unlikely hero

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As weather becomes a big story, TV forecasters are the new stars.

One evening in April, Tina Eller had the television on. Glenn Burns, the steely chief meteorologist for WSB-TV, said a tornado was three minutes away from slamming into her community. Burns's instructions were simple: Take cover. Eller, 51, rushed to a closet with her mother, two sisters and four dogs.

Every room in the house was wrecked, except the space that held her family. "It was that warning we got from him that got us into the closet on time, " Eller said. As the US moves through a year of floods, drought and its deadliest tornado season in half a century, the broadcast meteorologist has emerged as an unlikely hero.

Increasingly, the weather is becoming a bigger part of the national conversation. As scientists explore the implications of climate change and severe weather's effect on everything from crops to urban infrastructure, broadcast meteorologists like Burns are the ones who bring it home every day in eye-popping computer graphics.

"The weather is more extreme, the floods are wetter and the droughts are drier, " said Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. "That's going to have real implications on society, and it elevates the need for more information and a need for those on-air personalities. It's beyond what to wear for the day or do I need to carry an umbrella. "

Gone are the days when the local weather guy had to climb on a tricycle at the clown parade, and Diane Sawyer, who got her start delivering forecasts in Louisville, was called a weather bunny. Now, the forecaster is the egghead of the newsroom. Most have advanced degrees.

Burns, a man with affection for Porsches and astrophysics, has for 30 years predicted the weather for viewers in the Atlanta area. In the old days, he used to have to wait for his turn in the newscast, slap a magnetic sun on a map and hope it didn't rain. Now he presides over a new $1. 7-million radar system and has more real estate on the set than the newscasters have. As that kind of technology offers the ability to predict with great precision how a severe storm will move, the weather forecast has become about saving lives. "Weather is the reason to watch a newscast, " Burns says. "It's king."

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