A man who has become a fixture for West Michigan television viewers recently marked a big milestone in his broadcasting career. Meteorologist Keith Thompson is celebrating 30 years at Channel 3.

Keith has won the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Best Weathercast Award a few times. He also has an Emmy for Best Weathercast in Michigan, and a few years ago was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle (Michigan chapter), recognizing 25 years in the Television industry.

A celebration took place at Channel 3 recently to honor Keith's 30 years at the station.

We had an exclusive interview with Keith Thompson and talked about his longstanding career, reminisced some of the major weather events in West Michigan during his time here, and also discussed the advances in weather forecasting and broadcasting technology.

But we also learned about some of his experiences before he arrived in Kalamazoo in April of 1989.

Before coming to WWMT, I worked at WCJB-TV, the ABC affiliate in the Gainesville, Florida, television market. I began there in December, 1984, as a weekday news reporter and weekend weather anchor. Before WCJB, I worked in radio while in school. I went to Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. I worked at the college radio station as a DJ. I also worked at a couple of country music stations in the area as a DJ and news reader to earn some spending money and get some “professional” experience.

In Keith's early days in broadcasting, he didn't necessarily have weather forecasting on his "radar" (no pun intended). His degree is in Communications and his aspirations were to be a television news reporter, and eventually, a television news anchor.

After a few years doing both weather and news in Gainesville, I decided that I enjoyed weather better, so that’s the route I decided to take and why I applied for the job as morning weather anchor for a new morning newscast at WWMT back in early 1989. I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. My family -- couple of sisters, their families, a few cousins, etc. -- are all in the Jacksonville area.

There have been some major weather events in West Michigan during the years Keith has been covering the area. Among them is the Derecho of 1998, when a line of thunderstorms with winds up to 120 mph came across Lake Michigan over Memorial Day weekend. It blew through Grand Haven on the way to Grand Rapids. Keith recalls being put on assignment to report the damage.

I was sent to Alpine Township, in northeast Grand Rapids, where the damage was extensive. I remember a pharmacy that had its cinder block walls blown down but a lot of product on the store shelves were intact...hadn’t even moved.

A few other notable weather events during his career here that many remember are thunderstorms that produced a few tornadoes and did a lot of damage in Cass, St. Joseph, and Kalamazoo counties (Schoolcraft, Vicksburg, Galesburg, Augusta) in October 2001; thunderstorms that moved through southern Kalamazoo and much of Calhoun counties (Vicksburg, Battle Creek) in May 2011; the ice storm just before Christmas Day, 2013, that caused thousands in our area to lose power for a week or more; the heat wave in July 1995, where our Heat Index exceeded 120 degrees, and one morning, the morning low was 82 degrees. The heat killed hundreds in Chicago. The most recent major event was the historic flooding on the Kalamazoo River in the Kalamazoo area in 2018. But Keith says there is one event that rises above them all. It was several days of record heat in March of 2012.  

I think the most remarkable weather event I’ve witnessed in 30 years at WWMT wasn’t a single event, but something happened over several days: the string of record warmth we had in March, 2012. For more than a week, we had record high temperatures in the 80s. The most incredible stat (in my opinion): our average high temperature for the month of March, 2012, was warmer than average high April, 2012. At our latitude and at that time of year, that is nothing short of incredible!

Keith Thompson at the Severe Weathe Center 3 desk
Keith Thompson at the Severe Weather Center 3 desk

One thing that is constant in the world of broadcasting, as well as many industries, is technological advances. In 30 years at Channel 3, Keith says the changes have been incredible. Most notable are improvements in accuracy for forecast models, made possible by computer technology that has progressed by leaps and bounds.

A smart phone is exponentially more powerful than the most complex computers of just a generation ago. That computer power allows atmospheric researchers to refine and improve models which are used to predict weather events. Obviously, we’ve come a long way in graphics capabilities. When I started in television weather, we used a dial-up modem to download weather graphics. It was a slow process and the maps were rudimentary in appearance, certainly by today’s standards.


Severe Weather Center 3
Severe Weather Center 3

Today, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are changing and have changed the way the weather story is delivered.

I spend time Tweeting weather information, sharing professional and personal items of interest on Instagram, and posting weather information on Facebook, including hosting a Facebook Live update most weeknights, where I can spend several minutes talking about weather and interacting with a live audience. Another big change: just about everyone who has a smart phone has a weather app that gives current conditions and a forecast. My job is to put a personal touch on the weather story by using my experience and local knowledge to perhaps tweak a forecast (which is computer generated for smart phone apps), and by giving specific forecasts for events that are happening in the area.

We are truly fortunate to have someone with so much talent and genuine care for the communities in West Michigan. And to have that for three decades from Keith Thompson on the airwaves is even more of a blessing. So we thank him for taking the time to give us some perspective of his backstory and experiences over the years and also offer our congratulations for this big milestone. Thank you Keith!

Keith Thompson at NewsChannel 3 studio
Keith Thompson at NewsChannel 3 studio

More From WBCKFM