Veteran WTTG Meteorologist Sue Palka Signing Off

The trailblazing Washington, D.C., meteorologist will retire on March 23 from Fox-owned WTTG. “I don’t have any more boxes to check,” she says.

When an individual broadcasts local weather in a single market, at the same station, for nearly four decades, they become more than a TV personality in the eyes of the community they serve. They’re like a friend — trusted, reliable, someone who viewers look forward to seeing.

Washington, D.C., will soon say farewell to a friend of 37 years. WTTG’s beloved weathercaster, Sue Palka, is retiring.

“I don’t have any more boxes to check,” Palka, a six-time Emmy winner, tells TVNewsCheck. “I’m so happy with the arc of my career. It was unexpected, it’s been profoundly wonderful, and I feel like the time to go is now.” (Watch her on-the-air retirement announcement Wednesday evening here.)

Palka’s final broadcast as a full-time meteorologist at Fox 5 will hit the airwaves March 23. (She will continue to show up on-air occasionally for the foreseeable future afterward.) The buffer period will give GM Patrick Paolini time to solidify a replacement, even though, as he says, “You’re not going to fill her shoes.”

“We have likeability scores and respect scores [tied to Palka] that are just completely off the charts,” Paolini says. “What’s great about Sue is she likes to have fun, too.… That came across on air for sure.”

Palka also wants to stick around through the winter, which she says is often referred to as the weathercaster equivalent of tax season for accountants: “It’s a time in which we get a lot of eyeballs, and we better deliver,” she says. She notes that this winter has already been eventful, with more than 10 inches of snow falling in the area since the season officially began less than a month ago — a total that beats the last two winters combined. The D.C. metropolitan area needs her.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

But she’s also looking forward to longer stints in warm and sunny San Diego, where her two grandchildren live. Palka, who’s 66, plans on visiting them “for more than a week at a time” upon her retirement. She and her husband, Joe, will engage in some other travel when the pandemic eases, too. They plan to keep their home in Gaithersburg, Md., where they raised their two daughters and have called neighbors “family” since the late 1980s.

Palka began her professional life as a fourth-grade teacher in her hometown of Erie, Pa. (Back then, she says little girls didn’t even consider a career in TV an option.) However, on the side she performed in local theater and appeared in some commercials. A small local TV station got her phone number from a marketing company and asked her to audition for an open weekend weathercaster position.

Walking into a TV station for the first time, in the early ’80s, “was like an outtake from Anchorman,” Palka says. “It was all guys.”

While the audition in Erie did not lead to a job offer, Palka says the experience “lit a flame” in her to pursue a career in weather forecasting. When WTVR Richmond, Va., phoned her, she made sure to tell them she’d once auditioned for weather.

She and Joe, who works in radio, picked up from Omaha, Neb., and moved to Virginia for the weather forecasting gig. But the Palkas’ time spent there was short-lived.

In 1985, Joe got a job at WMAL-AM Washington, and the pair — who were expecting their first daughter — moved to D.C. Sue took a weekend weather position at WTTG, where she’s remained ever since, taking over weeknights within a couple of years.

“I was definitely the first woman in the market, and I was pregnant when I started,” Palka says. “It was stunning that they went for it.”

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

“There is no Sue for 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’s been highly adaptable as well, and always an eager learner.

Over the years she’s covered scores of major weather events, including 1996’s Hurricane Bertha, where she reported from inside the eye of the storm. In 1997, she made her way down to Curaçao and reported on a southern hemisphere-viewed total solar eclipse. She filed her story from the enviable setting of a cruise ship deck.

Also among her most memorable weather events is a snowstorm that occurred in November 1987, which dropped more than a foot of snow on portions of the city and its outlying areas. Why is that blizzard, of the many she’s reported on, such a standout? “It was not in the forecast the night before,” Palka says. “One of the hardest things I ever had to do was show up the next day.”

All the other weather forecasters in the market missed the storm, too, but the responsibility hit Palka hard, as people left her voicemails expressing their frustration over the inconvenience of being caught off guard by the snow. “I just thought, ‘OK, I’ve got to take a couple of spears in the chest here,” she says.

Of course, Palka rebounded nicely. By 1997, when President Bill Clinton invited her and around 100 other weather forecasters (again, mostly men) to a seminar on climate change, upon her self-introduction the president said, “Sue, I know who you are.” Palka also remembers Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff telling the attendees, during his introductory remarks about how important weather forecasters are, that he doesn’t go to bed until he sees Sue Palka’s weather forecast.

Today, according to Paolini, Palka is regarded as a pioneer.

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

Washingtonians are sure to be sad to see Palka go, if only from the airwaves. She promises to continue to be a regular at Washington Nationals baseball games, the theater and all local restaurants. Those who’ve watched her on TV needn’t be afraid to approach their friend, Sue Palka, in public, should they run into her.

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


Comments (0)

Leave a Reply


More News