Audience research consistently shows weather is a primary driver of news audience in every TV newsroom. And in many markets, members of the weather team are some of the most popular people on air. At WTVA in Tupelo, Matthew Laubhan is a fan favorite.
Laubhan is known far beyond the borders of North Mississippi, too. In 2014 when an EF3 tornado had the TV station right in its path, he evacuated the production crew live, on the air.
“Basement, now,” he orders the news crew. “Basement, now. Let’s go. Now.”
Laubhan runs off camera to seek shelter with his staff.
The one-minute clip has been viewed more than 1.1 million times on YouTube.
Yet, Laubhan almost became a lawyer and he jokes that his career as a meteorologist began by failing his Spanish entrance exam in college.
Laubhan is from a small town in Kansas called Russell. When he was younger, he remembers hearing tornado sirens and not knowing what they meant. His curiosity to find out continued with him until high school when his career interests changed to law. But life had other plans, and when he failed the entry-level Spanish exam he needed to pass on the way to that law degree, he changed his major to meteorology.
He has now been delivering weather for 15 years. One of the biggest challenges that Laubhan thinks meteorologists face is determining whether to cut into TV programs for weather coverage.
“It’s part experience and part gambling,” said Laubhan.
While talking to audiences about potentially dangerous weather, Laubhan said he tries to make the complicated reports easy for viewers to digest.
“Most of what I’m doing is trying to describe what I’m looking at, whether or not if I believe from my experience that this is dangerous, and how long it is before that dangerous thing gets to them,” Laubhan said.
He says he believes that the weather is such a popular subject because it helps people plan out their days.
“It’s the one thing that affects everyone,” Laubhan said. “To get a general idea of what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen allows me to live out my day however I want to live it.”
Laubhan said that he feels blessed to have an audience that loves him.
“There’s a lot of people in my position in this market and markets around the country that do not have the same support that I have, that have been there longer, that are better than I am. So, it all goes back to God blessing me and my family.”
Laubhan believes that the station’s coverage of tornados in 2014 helped create a connection between him and his audience. He said that shared experience builds a bond. People in need were able to count on him being a reliable source.
And with Laubhan, he says what you see is what you get.
“I try very hard to be as normal as possible.” Laubhan said, “What I am off the air is what I am on the air.”
Laubhan’s personality gained him national attention again in 2019 when his on-air exchange with a fellow meteorologist got a bit heated during another bout of severe weather and Jimmy Kimmel’s show shared the clip.
In the end, fellow meteorologist John Dolusic went on Facebook to defend Laubhan writing, “Our job is to save lives, simple as that. We are a team, we need each other to make sure all of our viewers at home are safe.”
Laubhan says he thinks that people want to feel comfortable with whoever they rely on for important news and want to know they’re relying on someone who cares.
“People want to watch people, they don’t want to watch robots.”