Justin Berk wearing a “Faith in a Flakes” sweatshirt. –Photography by Mike …
March 11, 2015 - accent chair
Justin Berk is distracted. Though he’s being interviewed in a behind of a Timonium Panera Bread, he keeps hidden glances during his MacBook Pro and his iPhone, that lies on a list buzzing and toll frequently. His preoccupation, as always, is a weather. A charge complement is headed for Maryland and is relocating in faster than anticipated. Suddenly, sleet that was scheduled for a following day competence arrive as early as this afternoon, and Berk, a meteorologist of choice for many Baltimoreans, is disturbed about blank a possibility to refurbish his multitude of amicable media supporters on a latest projections. “I’m sorry. we hatred to be rude,” he says in his rapid-fire patois that still retains a spirit of his internal “New Yawk” accent. “Oh my God, this is crazy. Look,” he continues, branch his mechanism to exhibit a radar map.
“This is where it’s going to start as sleet and go to complicated snow, substantially a integrate inches of accumulation, afterwards to rain, afterwards into sleet tomorrow,” he says, indicating to a pinkish allegation on a map engulfing a incomparable Baltimore region. “Now how do we [explain] that yet putting people to sleep?” he asks, his eyes land with all a pleasure of a child on a sleet day.
He finds ways. With some-more than 185,000 supporters on Facebook, scarcely 22,000 on Twitter, and as many as hundreds of thousands of daily visitors to his website, JustinWeather.com, Berk’s populist hold can’t be denied. Almost certainly, a apportionment of his assembly followed him over from his Baltimore TV gigs, initial during WBAL from 1997 to 2003 and afterwards during WMAR from 2003 to 2012. But given streamer online-only in 2012, his following has, well, snowballed, and he now reaches about 1 million people a week on Facebook alone, and adult to 5 million during storms.
But he has amassed a small, outspoken fortuitous of detractors, as well. A satire Twitter criticism (@NotJustinBerk) frequently mocks his forecasting skills, his locate phrases (“Faith in a Flakes,” “stickage,” et al.), and his ubiquitous persona. And yet he has won several “Best of” awards from internal media (including Baltimore in 2000, 2006, and 2007), he has also taken copiousness of hits for his rejection of synthetic meridian change and his thin-skinned reactions to criticism.
Somehow, this self-described “weather nut” has overwhelmed a nerve, apropos one of Baltimore’s many divisive media figures. The irony is that Berk comes opposite like an inveterate people-pleaser. When an aged male needs a chair during a packaged Panera, Berk grabs one for him. When a emanate of meridian change is raised, Berk begs off, observant he’s perplexing to equivocate a emanate these days since it’s “too polarizing.” (Contrary to a immeasurable infancy of meridian scientists, he believes that tellurian warming is due usually to a Earth’s healthy heat fluctuations.) And when Cool Kids Campaign, a Towson-based gift for pediatric cancer patients and their families, indispensable an speaker for one of a American Girl indication hunt events this month, theory who concluded to host?
“He flattering many agrees to anything we chuck during him,” says Sharon Perfetti, a executive executive and co-founder of Cool Kids Campaign. “[The indication search] means interviewing hundreds of American Girl hopefuls on a Saturday on his possess time. If he sets a thought or says he’s going to do something, we can count on it being accomplished.”
“People were dropping F-bombs on stage. we don’t do that.”
This includes visiting schools many weeks to learn lessons about continue and lift money, and hiking and biking opposite Maryland. Last August, Berk spent a week movement 321 miles from Wisp to Ocean City to lift income for Cool Kids, a outing he skeleton to repeat this summer. He averaged dozens of miles per day and grown agonizing blisters. Despite this, he refused to cut corners. Because pedestrians and cyclists are not authorised on a Bay Bridge, he took a vessel to a Eastern Shore. But rather than lay behind and suffer a breeze, he insisted on roving a still bike on a vessel during a crossing.
What’s a source of this roughly unsound drive? “I survived a lot,” he says.
Berk was innate in a Bronx in 1973. His relatives separate adult when he was 3, and it got ugly. “I remember everything. It was not fun,” he says, yet he declines to elaborate. The ensuing control conflict lasted dual years, one of that Berk spent in and out of encourage care. Finally, Berk’s father was given full control of Berk and his comparison brother. His father shortly remarried, a acquire expansion that stabilized a family. “I got to see something not work, and afterwards we got to see something that worked improved than most,” Berk reflects.
But income remained tight, and a family bounced between a Bronx, where both his relatives were public-school teachers, and a suburbs, a some-more middle-class existence done probable by his father’s eagerness to work additional jobs. These enclosed weekend shifts during Caldor dialect store and offered IRAs and bonds.
“He’d be out until 11:30 during night,” Berk remembers. “We couldn’t means to live in a tighten suburb, so we had to live approach distant out to get to something better. So his invert was about an hour and a half any way. He is a many inexhaustible chairman we know—and I’m not usually observant that since he’s my dad.”
Through it all, continue remained an abiding fascination. It started when he was 5 or 6 years aged and a snowstorm forced New York City schools to close. It continued out in a ‘burbs when he beheld that a TV continue reports didn’t compare what was function outward his door. “We were removing opposite weather,” he recalls. “I unequivocally wanted to know why.”
Berk’s oddity extended to slicing out a continue sections from several newspapers, withdrawal playtime with friends to watch a continue foresee on a TV news, and, of course, examination lots of a then-nascent Weather Channel. “It got to a indicate where, sometimes, I’d go into a lavatory in front of a counterpart and fake I’m indicating to a continue map and doing a forecast,” he says sheepishly.
A bashful kid, continue became a source of certainty for Berk. “My friends would be job me adult saying, ‘Do we have to investigate for a exam tomorrow?’ The initial time we [correctly likely a weather] we was like, ‘This is flattering cool. I’m assisting people out, yet it’s good to know what’s going to occur brazen of time.'”
But another predicament loomed. At a finish of eighth grade, Berk was hospitalized for what some doctors suspicion was cancer yet incited out to be a staph infection. After surgery, Berk peaked a heat and his leg swelled, heading one alloy to advise amputation. Though a alloy reconsidered, Berk wasn’t out of a woods. He grown an allergy to penicillin and was forced to try a comparatively new drug, that he thinks “fried” his thyroid and tiny his growth. It took a few years before Berk felt behind to his aged self.
“I was told by my alloy they weren’t certain if I’d entirely recover. we consider we did.”
It is since of this knowledge that Berk is so clinging to a Cool Kids Campaign, and, perhaps, since he reacts a approach he does to adversity. “I consider it’s a good instance for anybody. You can hear ‘No,’ and still go,” he says.
And go he did, initial to Cornell University, where he warranted a grade in meteorology, and afterwards to stations in Syracuse and Binghamton, NY, before alighting in Baltimore during WBAL and afterwards WMAR.
His reign during WMAR finished abruptly in Jan 2012 when agreement negotiations pennyless down forcing his departure. According to Berk, a vital adhering indicate was his Facebook page. He had combined a page to “explain continue as we wanted to, when we wanted to, not usually when we was during work,” yet government wanted a ability to entrance and change it during will.
“It’s a good instance for anybody. You can hear ‘No,’ and still go.”
“They could mislay me from my possess page, and afterwards I’d spin into Steve Jobs chronicle 1.0—kicked out of my possess company,” he says.
His Facebook page had about 5,200 supporters during that point. But a harder a sinecure pushed for access, a some-more he resisted. “Honestly, we doubled down,” he says, figuring, “I contingency have something some-more profitable than we realize.”
Though withdrawal radio after scarcely 20 years for amicable media was a large change, it was not unconditionally unwelcome. Berk was sleepy of a early mornings and wanted some-more coherence in his schedule.
He can now spend some-more time with his dual sons, ages 9 and 5. (He is now separated, yet he and his mother live nearby any other north of Baltimore and devise to share custody.) In fact, it was his oldest son who forked a approach brazen with an thought for a kid-friendly continue app that was expelled in Nov 2012. Called Kid Weather, it has been downloaded in 55 countries. Berk has another app, WUSUP: Weather You See, in expansion that will offer “crowd-sourced” continue updates. And, of course, he’s operative on serve monetizing his website.
But amicable media can be a double-edged sword. And yet Berk stays mostly unscathed, a few nicks he has postulated continue to sting. Chief among them is that satire Twitter account, which, yet usually followed by 195 people, depends many of his aged TV colleagues as fans.
The account’s “bio” reads in part: “Even when it rains and I’m job for snow, we am always 100% a man.” When asked to explain a ground for a snark, a unknown print behind a criticism said, “EGO. [It is] incomparable than Maryland’s population.”
Berk sees a criticism as cyberbullying during best and litigious during worst. He claims stream WMAR employees who have retweeted a criticism are in defilement of a station’s social-media policy. But he also says to sue would “not be my style.” (WMAR ubiquitous manager Bill Hooper had no comment.)
Berk’s frustrations boiled over publicly final tumble during a Mobbies, The Baltimore Sun‘s annual online media awards. Accepting one of dual awards he won that night, he indicted some members of a assembly of assisting “to propagate” a satire account. “I indeed had to sinecure an profession since it got so bad,” he continued as a throng murmured and tittered. “I’m sitting on such a extensive volume of information that, if we went public, would indeed be intensely detrimental, if not destroying some careers.”
Then, changing tack, he said: “I’ve motionless to take a high road. we motionless to concentration on a good stuff.” He finished by quoting lyrics to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and grabbing his crotch. A video of a debate was uploaded to YouTube and done a teenager dash in internal media with City Paper editor (and former Baltimore comparison editor) Evan Serpick commenting that a criticism is “frankly something a C-list internal luminary like Berk should substantially be respected to have.”
But Berk stays defiant. “I was during a snarky eventuality to start with. People were dropping F-bombs on stage. we don’t do that. . . . we quickly mentioned that with my endowment and many good things, my past year was not all fun and games,” he explains.
And it is precisely this opinion that infuriates his detractors. What Berk sees as formidable and moral, his critics perspective as sparse and egotistical.
Meanwhile, his fans are unaware—or during slightest uninterested—in this media yank of war.
Near a finish of a interview, Berk is dreaming once again, yet this time not by a weather. A immature blonde lady is staring during him, and he is certain he knows her from somewhere. As she approaches Berk asks, “Have we met before? You demeanour unequivocally familiar.”
“I don’t consider so,” a lady admits. “I follow we on Facebook though, so maybe that’s partial of it.”