Sue Palka, veteran WTTG meteorologist, signs signature

When an individual broadcasts the local weather forecast in a single market, at the same station, for nearly four decades, they become more than a television personality in the eyes of the community they serve. He’s like a friend – trusted, reliable, someone viewers can’t wait to see.

Washington, DC, will soon be saying goodbye to a 37-year-old friend. Beloved WTTG Weather Presenter Sue Palka is retiring.

“I have no more checkboxes,” said six-time Emmy winner Palka. TVNewsCheck. “I’m so happy with the arc of my career. It was unexpected, it was deeply wonderful, and I feel like the time has come to go. (Watch his retirement announcement live Wednesday evening here.)

Palka’s last show as a full-time meteorologist on Fox 5 airs on March 23. (She will continue to appear on the air occasionally for the foreseeable future thereafter.) The stub period will give GM Patrick Paolini time to solidify a replacement. , although, as he puts it, “you’re not going to fill her shoes.”

“We have sympathy scores and respect scores [tied to Palka] which are completely off the charts, ”says Paolini. “What’s great about Sue is that she also likes to have fun … It sure happened on the air.”

Palka also wants to stay during the winter, which she says is often called the weather equivalent of tax season for accountants: “It’s a time when we have a lot of eyeballs and we do. better to deliver, ”she said. She notes that this winter has already been hectic, with more than 10 inches of snowfall in the region since the season officially started less than a month ago – a total that beats the last two winters combined. The DC metro area needs her.

But she also looks forward to longer stays in the heat and sunshine of San Diego, where her two grandchildren live. Palka, who is 66, plans to visit them “for more than a week at a time” when she retires. She and her husband, Joe, will also be making other trips when the pandemic subsides. They plan to keep their home in Gaithersburg, Md., Where they raised their two daughters and have called their neighbors “family” since the late 1980s.

Palka began her professional life as a fourth-grade teacher in her hometown of Erie, Pa. (At the time, she says little girls weren’t even considering a career in television.) However, from the side where she performed in the local theater and appeared in some commercials. A small local TV station got his phone number from a marketing company and asked him to audition for a weather presenter job open on weekends.

Entering a television station for the first time, in the early 1980s, “was like leaving Presenter, says Palka. “It was all guys.”

While the audition at Erie did not result in a job offer, Palka says the experience “kindled a flame” in her to pursue a career in weather forecasting. When WTVR Richmond, Va. Called her, she made sure to tell them she had auditioned for the weather before.

She and Joe, who works at radio, came from Omaha, Neb., And moved to Virginia for the weather forecast gig. But the time the Palkas spent there was short-lived.

In 1985, Joe got a job at WMAL-AM Washington, and the couple – who was expecting their first daughter – moved to DC. .

“I was definitely the first woman on the market and I was pregnant when I started,” says Palka. “It was amazing that they accepted.”

The secret to its sustainability, she says, “comes from being completely who I am on air, as I am in person.

“There is no Sue for the broadcast, and no Sue at home – other than the fact that I don’t wear false eyelashes at home,” Palka adds. “I am who I am.”

She says she has also adjusted very well and has always been an avid learner.

Over the years, she has covered dozens of major weather events, including Hurricane Bertha of 1996, where she reported from inside the eye of the storm. In 1997, she traveled to Curaçao and reported on a total solar eclipse seen in the southern hemisphere. She filed her story of the enviable setting of a cruise ship deck.

Also among its most memorable weather events was a snowstorm that occurred in November 1987, which dropped more than a foot of snow over parts of the city and its outlying areas. Why is this blizzard, of the many she spoke of, so remarkable? “It wasn’t in the forecast the night before,” says Palka. “One of the hardest things I ever had to do was show up the next day.”

All the other meteorologists in the market also missed the storm, but responsibility hit Palka hard, as people left her voicemail messages expressing frustration at the inconvenience of being caught off guard by the snow. “I was just like, ‘OK, I have to take some spears in my chest here,’ she said.

Of course, Palka rebounded well. In 1997, when President Bill Clinton invited her and a hundred other forecasters (again, mostly male) to a climate change seminar, during her presentation, the President said : “Sue, I know who you are”. Palka also remembers Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff telling attendees, during his opening remarks about the importance of weather forecasters, that he did not go to bed until he saw Sue’s weather forecast. Palka.

Today, according to Paolini, Palka is considered a pioneer.

“She’s legendary in the market,” he says, “certainly one of the oldest female meteorologists in the country… She’s a mentor, she’s a mother; as she grew through the resort she became a mother figure and a leader to many, not only in the weather department but through the evening newscast, all the people who have come and gone , and just in general.

Washingtonians will certainly be sad to see Palka go, if only through the airwaves. She promises to continue to be a regular at Washington Nationals baseball games, the theater and all the local restaurants. Those who have watched her on TV don’t need to be afraid to approach their friend, Sue Palka, in public, if they run into her.

Palka says, “I love meeting new people” – even those who feel like they’ve known her for almost 40 years.

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