Walter Cronise’s famous “Fearless Forecasts” for WPLG-Channel 10 made the bow-tie-wearing weatherman a friendly, folksy presence in the face of “great big toad strangling” storms in the Everglades and the last major storm of his 50-year meteorologist career, Andrew, a super storm that shocked South Floridians out of complacency.
“The night before Andrew, we went to 24-hour news coverage before anyone knew what it was going to turn out to be,” remembers former WLPG anchor Diane Magnum who worked alongside Cronise for 10 years. “He and I were on the air for 12 hours straight. Just the two of us. And how little I knew about hurricanes was how much he knew about hurricanes and he filled most of those 12 hours, keeping the conversation going.”
His knowledge and on-air manner proved invaluable, she said.
“He was a mentor to Don Noe and Bryan Norcross and Todd Tongen and everyone who came after him learned something from Walt,” Magnum said.
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Cronise died at 90 on Sept. 20 in Jacksonville, where he had moved in March with his wife of 70 years, Dorothy. They had five children, all of whom survive him.
South Florida knew Cronise as Uncle Walt, the veteran Navy meteorologist who served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. After joining the Navy in December 1941, three years before he married his wife in Miami., Cronise served three tours of duty with the Hurricane Hunter Squadron, a unit that would fly into storms to study their energy. The experience would serve him well in South Florida — even if he had to wait a couple decades to report on Andrew, the first monster ’cane to hit the region since Betsy in 1965.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 14, 1924, Cronise retired from the Navy in 1967 and moved to Miami where he would land at WPLG in 1969 — “Just about the time TV weather was getting away from clowns and women in bikinis and back to professionals,” he said. He soon became WPLG’s chief meteorologist and was on the air with the station until his retirement in November 1992.
“I’m going to bring my alarm clock in, and we’re going to smash the hell out of it,” Cronise told the Miami Herald on his last day with the station.
Cronise could be a card. “You can’t be right all the time. One time, the only thing I got right was sunrise and sunset.” And he loved his post-broadcast libation.
“When we would do the noon news together, Walt would go on at around 18 minutes after the hour and at 21 minutes after the hour he was in the parking lot and already in the bar having his first lunch cocktail by the time I got off the air,” Magnum said, laughing.
But “he was an outstanding meteorologist,” she quickly added, joining a list of admirers that included late Channel 10 anchor Ann Bishop. “If I was going to take a trip, Walter is the one I would check with,” she said upon his exit from the public eye.
Long before flashy TV graphics, flashier, chattier broadcasters and revolving personnel, Cronise proved a fixture in the market and probably the first, and last, weather personality to warn viewers of coming downpours with nifty nicknames like “toad stranglers,” “fairway flooders“ and “Palmetto pounders,” which, this being South Florida, could have referred to the congested expressway or the cockroaches that are as big as compact cars.
Cronise could also be a sweetheart.
“I met him when I was about 12 years old and I knew I wanted to be a journalist,” said Miami native Magnum. Cronise gave Magnum and a school chum a tour of the station and the two girls, “with eyes as wide as saucers,” took in everything: the cameras that were as big as them, the TelePrompTers, the clickety-clack of typewriters and other now arcane devices of communication.
“Another 12 years later, I had the good fortune to sit next to him at the anchor desk. He was a joy. A wicked sense of humor. Really funny. He loved women, he was a terrible flirt,” she said. “He loved his wife Dorothy dearly and had a twinkle in his eye all the time,” Magnum said.
“When I was first made an anchor, I was so nervous if I picked up the papers they’d shake so loudly you’d hear them on the mic,” said Magnum, now a freelance journalist and producer. “Walt would reach out and take my hand and say, ‘Don’t worry, sweetheart, you’ll be great.’ He was a sweet man — and it was real.”
In addition to his wife and children, Cronise is survived by seven granddaughters and 14 great-grandchildren. Services are pending. Memorials in his name can be sent to Wounded Warrior Project or Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
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