It’s the 10th anniversary of the Louisiana hurricanes.
We’re sharing excerpts from Hearts across the Water, a personal memoir written during 2005.
Chapter 17 : Lyle Whitlake
August 29, 2005
It’s 2:30 am and I’m driving from the Houston airport east toward my Louisiana home. The westbound lanes of Interstate 10 are full of vehicles slowly crawling toward Houston. It seems as if all of Louisiana is heading west to escape Katrina.
Katrina is scheduled to make landfall after daylight somewhere to the south of New Orleans. I am glued to the all night radio as they give reports from Biloxi, Gulfport, Houma, and New Orleans. The announcers are talking to all kinds of experts on hurricanes. Some are in the midst of the storm determined to be there for all of it. There is a tension in their voices you can sense even through the radio. Others give dire predictions from hundreds of miles in the sterile safety of a weather station full of gauges, maps, and screens.
One forecaster predicts the possibility that we could “lose a major American city if this storm hits New Orleans head on.” I shake my head in disgust at this overreaction never dreaming that thirty hours later we will see it nearly begin to take place.
I finally settle on the late night call-in show of radio commentator Art Bell.
He is broadcasting from “high in the Nevada desert” but tonight’s show is centered on the approach of Katrina to New Orleans. Art Bell intones in his radio voice, “After the next station break, I’m going to try to get hold of one of my old Air Force buddies who is a weatherman.”
After the promised break, Art returns to tell about his friend from their Air Force days in Wichita Falls, Texas. “My friend Lyle Whitlake and I would chase tornadoes during the spring. Our goal was to capture them on film and sell the video footage to local TV stations.”
Sure enough Art’s tornado chasing buddy joins him on the air via telephone. It is obvious Lyle Whitlake knows about the weather. He converses clearly and excitedly as they relive their storm chasing days.
Lyle’s voice sounds familiar but I can’t seem to place him.
Lyle Whitlake eloquently explains to Art Bell and listeners everywhere about the role of temperature of Gulf water in strengthening hurricanes. He explains about collapsing eye walls and gives a thorough but understandable explanation of what we can expect in the next few hours from Katrina.
After the next station break Art returns to his conversation with Lyle, “Now Lyle you live and work in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Are you being affected by the storm?”
As Lyle explains that not even rain is predicted for western Louisiana I’m much more curious.
Art Bell introduced him as “a Lake Charles weatherman” yet I’ve never heard of him.
Finally Art asks, “Now, Lyle my understanding is that you don’t go by your real name as a weatherman. What’s your name now? Isn’t it Rob . . . uh Rob Robin?”
All of a sudden I realize that this Lyle Whitlake is really Rob Robin, Southwest Louisiana’s most famous and trusted weatherman for the past thirty years.
To think that his real name was not Rob Robin shocked me just as if I’d found out I had a brother or sister I’d never met.
I’ve grown up in an area where people still say, “But Rob said…”
Rob Robin began his weather career in Lake Charles with KPLC-TV.
He quickly achieved a cult-like following.
His long straight hair and odd-looking face and body were not made for TV, but it was evident that here was a man who ate, slept, and reported the weather.
Early in his career, Rob would get very excited about impending weather systems. For him to get words tangled up was not uncommon.
Rob is famous for once excitedly pointing at his weather map as he told of an approaching cold front, “Now we’ll have to watch this cold mare’s ass coming out of Canada.”
Rob, I believe that’s “cold air mass.”
Legendary stories abounded around Rob. We’d always heard that he took his vacations to go chase tornadoes in Kansas. (He continued that storm chasing he’d picked up in the Air Force). His whole life was tied up in the weather.
When owner Russell Chambers sold KPLC TV, Rob left television but continued his weather reporting on the radio. He now has a studio/weather station in his own home.
My wife DeDe always loves to tell the story of once when a bad spring storm was approaching and Rob said, “Folks it’s going to be bad, and I’m going to be up to tell you all about it.”
It was like Christmas morning for Rob, I mean Lyle.
So Lyle Whitlake’s eloquent explanation of the mechanics and physics of Katrina was no surprise as I listened for the next hour to The Art Bell Show. Art Bell may or may not have known it, but he was interviewing a true weather legend.
Yes, that’s our favorite Southwest Louisiana weatherman, Lyle… oops, I mean Rob Robin.
John Bridges, another KPLC legend, interviewed Rob a few years ago but his passion for the weather. Rob’s words are worth noting:
“It’s a good feeling. I’ve always aimed to be the best I could be at what I did. I was always interested. That’s very important to be doing what you really feel you were born to do.”
Get your ebook copy of Hearts across the Water at Amazon‘s Kindle Store.
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