Sept. 28, 2009
It was early morning May 11, 1973, and Dennis Bowman '72 was the lone broadcaster at a small radio station in Joplin. As he gave the weather update, Bowman began to notice a disturbing trend.
"On that day it got worse every time I looked at the sky," Bowman said. "It went from clear, to partly cloudy, to scattered dark clouds and then to a solid wall of black on the western horizon."
What Bowman was seeing was a wall cloud, extending down from a large thunderstorm system and producing a powerful tornado.
"I was broadcasting the warning," he said, "thinking about what to do if this knocks me off the air. Where is my safe place?"
At 6:47 a.m., the clock stopped and all transmissions from the station went silent. Glass shattered as hail and rain assaulted the building. Throwing aside his headphones, Bowman bolted to the adjacent room and dived beneath a metal desk.
The pursuing storm lifted for a few precious moments, ultimately sparing the radio station. It was at this moment that Bowman became enthralled with the weather.
"I have a special fear, fascination and respect for weather in general and severe weather in particular," Bowman said. "That was the real breakthrough that got my attention."
After getting trained in meteorology, Bowman began a career in weather broadcasting that led him to cities across the country, including Evansville, Ind., Syracuse, N.Y., and a 16-year run at WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh, Pa. For a time, Bowman even started his own public speaking company, merging his talent as a ventriloquist with his love for the weather. Bowman performed for schools and group functions alongside "Chester," his dummy.
"Ventriloquism started out as a hobby, and the next thing I knew, it was a semi-profession," Bowman said. "It was a fun way to educate the kids."
In an industry that can change as rapidly as the weather itself, Bowman has seen broadcasting evolve through the years. He has witnessed the introduction of satellite imagery, Doppler radar and the internet.
"I used magic markers and magnets for 11 years on television," Bowman said with a chuckle. "And then one day they dropped a computer in front of me and said this is what we are going to use now."
Bowman and his wife of 36 years, Debbie Diaz Bowman '72, met at Northwest. They live in Pittsburgh, Pa., where Bowman continues to perform as a ventriloquist and report the weather as a meteorologist for KDKA-TV.