weather makes his garden grow
by Kent Jennings Brockwell
He has been called the patriarch of weather forecasting in Jacksonville but most know him as the Gardening Weatherman.
Most weather forecasters today look at computers and Doppler radar for their weather reports. George Winterling looks at his garden.
For the past 43 years, Winterling has been forecasting the weather at TV-4. Though often watched for his accurate forecasts, he is also famous for his on camera gardening tips from George’s Garden, a small garden Winterling maintains right outside the station.
Winterling, 73, started working as a weather anchor for WJXT in 1962 but he has had a green thumb a lot longer than that.
“It started back in World War II when my mother had a Victory Garden,” he said. “Back in those days we had food stamps and food was rationed. I really enjoyed eating the English peas and the cherry tomatoes and from then on I just liked to watch things grow.”
When he started at TV-4, Winterling bought a personal movie camera and began filming the garden at his home and other green things in his yard.
He began taking his films and using them as part of his
In 1991, Winterling said his manager suggested that he start a garden at the station and begin doing a live weather show outside in the garden. For about 12 years, Winterling did live broadcasts from the garden but said it became too much of a hassle.
“It got where I had to be in (the studio) for thunderstorms and then out there for the garden show and would have to change from my suit to my garden clothes, so I just started to tape it myself,” he said.
He now shoots and edits all of his own garden footage before the evening broadcast and he often films from the garden at his home where he grows a lot of fruit and flowers.
Though only about 20 seconds long, Winterling said the gardening segment of his broadcasts has been popular because a lot of people move here from other parts of the country and they don’t know when to plant things or what to plant.
“It has been very popular with a lot of people that want to learn how to grow flowers and vegetables here,” he said. “We also have a lot of senior citizens here that grew up on a farm or were used to having gardens before they moved to the condo or whatever and they always enjoy seeing it since they don’t have a garden where they live.”
At the station garden, Winterling is currently growing a variety of typical summertime vegetables — tomatoes, zucchini, okra, corn — but he is also growing some non, vegetable crops like cotton and Virginia jumbo peanuts.
Though Winterling eats a fair share of his crops, he said most of his produce “disappears” around the newsroom.
“We have about 100 people working here so I know there are different ones who like different things,” he said. “I pass (the vegetables) around the station and they disappear.”
Though his gardening tips have been a constant at TV-4 since 1962, Winterling said he has seen his fair share of changes during his tenure at the station, technology being the biggest.
Though most people today are used to seeing radar screens and high-tech computers reports when watching the weather report, Winterling comes from a era when weather forecasting meant going outside and looking up.
“We didn’t have the satellite pictures,” Winterling said. “So we had to pretty much go outside and look in the different directions to find out where the storms were. We also had some spotters that we could call or they would call us and tell us what the weather was in their neighborhood.
“Before computers, we basically all looked at the same weather map and the same reports. It was just a matter of us using our knowledge of the weather to make a forecast.”
Winterling said when he first started forecasting, though it still applies today, the best weathermen were the ones that had lived in the area the longest.
“The longer a person was at a certain place forecasting, the better he was because he had learned certain things to look for,” said Winterling. “Since I lived here, I could forecast our weather a lot better than someone from Minnesota or Oklahoma because their weather is different.”
Besides changes in weather forecasting technology, Winterling has also experienced the transition from black and white television to “living color” during his tenure.
“When television was black and white, we could wear the same tie and the same suit every day of the week and no body would know the difference,” he said. “Then in 1967, color came and the style changed. We started wearing these ties that were four or five inches wide and all kinds of splashy colors. We also wore colored shirts, orange shirts, red shirts, blue shirts, just for color.
“Many people, however, were still watching us on black and white TVs and we had to put at the bottom of the screen ‘This broadcast is in living color.’”
Winterling has also experience a variety of cultural changes during his career. In the 1970’s, Winterling said he saw the change from anchorman to anchor person when women were first hired to be on camera personalities.
“1972 was when we got our first women anchors and the first black anchor came about that same time,” he said. “Then in the 70’s and 80’s we had more and more women.
“Back then everything was sexist. Guys were in the workplace and the women were either at home raising babies or they were models or on TV at the beach in bathing suits. Some of the women were very much offended that men resented them doing so-called men’s work and that is when the women’s liberation started.”
Though he has seen and experienced his fair share of changes since becoming a weatherman 43 years ago, Winterling said retiring is a change he isn’t ready for yet.
“As long as my health holds up and as long as people are interested in watching me I will still have a job,” he said.