For Ginger Zee at ABC, ‘absolute dream’ comes true

Now Chicago’s sweetheart belongs to America. This week Ginger Zee officially starts working for ABC’s Good Morning America as weekend meteorologist and weekday contributor.

It’s a huge step up for the former farm girl and high school homecoming queen who'd been a star attraction at WMAQ-Channel 5 until she signed off last month. Named after the Ginger character on Gilligan’s Island, Zee, 30, grew up in western Michigan and worked at WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids before joining NBC 5 as weekend meteorologist in 2006.

"Ginger developed her fascination for severe weather at age eight when her family spent a summer on the stormy shores of Lake Michigan," ABC News president Ben Sherwood said in a statement Monday. "She begins at ABC News on Wednesday and will debut as weather anchor on GMA Weekend this Saturday."

In her first interview since news of her move to New York broke here, Zee talked candidly about her exciting new opportunity, her tornado-chasing boyfriend, and why she thinks it’s always too damn cold outside:

Q. How’s the weather? (Bet you don’t get asked that very often.)

A. It’s spectacular. Seriously, no matter where I go I find challenges and something new to learn about in our great atmosphere. And honestly, I don’t get asked that all that often.

Q. What can you tell me about your new job?

A. I get to go outside. I get to bring my passion for weather to the nation. Not just in the studio for Good Morning America Saturdays and Sundays — I will also be filling in for Sam Champion during the week — but contributing live reports for weekday GMA from the field. I will be in every hurricane, every major flood, and every Nor’easter for Good Morning America. This is an absolute dream come true.

Q. I first wrote about you leaving in August. How were you able to keep quiet all this time?  

A. It has been so difficult! When you get an opportunity like this and can’t tell anyone — even had to swear my mom to secrecy — it is frustrating. I wanted to get on a rooftop and scream: “I did it! I made it! I can’t believe it is real!”

Q. Any chance we’ll be seeing you and Paula Faris on the same show?

A. I think there is a great chance that you will see Paula and me on the same show very soon. Paula and I not only have some physical similarities but we became very good friends over the past five years. I am ecstatic to have my bookend moving east with me.

Q. Your agent (Rick Ramage of N.S. Bienstock Inc.) says you like being a guest on Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers for the adrenaline rush. Have you ever felt your life was in danger on the show?

A. Well, it is definitely more than the adrenaline rush. My boyfriend, Reed Timmer of Storm Chasers, is getting unprecedented data from inside tornadoes using mobile radar and parachute probes. To witness history and science being made in front of your eyes is the rush. Seeing the beauty and power of nature doesn’t hurt either . . .  I have never felt like my life is in danger while chasing with TVN [].

Q. What do you think you’ll miss most about Chicago?

A. Where do I begin? My stepfather and his large family — The Crafts — are from Chicago, so Chicago has always been home for me. I will miss the people, my Thursday supper club, Lake Michigan, Montrose Dog Beach, Golden Girl Chicago, Elina Organics, HiFi gym, my students and staff at Valparaiso University — I was an adjunct professor there for the past four years — the crew at WMAQ, and most of all being close enough to drive home to Michigan.

Q. Who are your weather heroes or role models?

A. My weather role models include James Spann, Janice Huff, and Reed Timmer. Can your boyfriend be your hero or role model? Well, he is. I would be remiss if I left out Chicago’s true sweetheart, Tom Skilling. I was Tom’s intern about 10 years ago, and after working in the same market I respect him even more. I can only hope to garner the following and respect that Skilling has. Al Roker has to be in there too. What a force! He does so much more than weather. And now I get to work with Sam Champion.

Q. What do you suppose you’d be doing if you weren’t a meteorologist?

A. Bar tending. No question. I absolutely love the restaurant industry. And I can mix some mean drinks!

Q. Is it ever too hot or too cold for you?

A. Always too cold.  I was born in Orange, California, and swear my blood just hasn’t ever been thick enough for the region. We moved to Michigan before I was 1, but the warm-weather blood had settled in.  New York isn’t too much warmer, but the ocean moderates us a bit.

Q. How many episodes of Gilligan’s Island have you actually watched?

A. Dozens.  Although I am totally more of a Mary Ann, I love the glamour that Ginger brings to the island. I am hoping to do that here in Manhattan. I need to get one of those pearl colored sparkly gowns at some point.

Q. Do you have any idea how sad people are that you’ve left us?

A. Do you have any idea how much I will miss the people of Chicago? The good news is I will still be on in Chicago. You just have to flip over to Channel 7! Shameless plug, but I promise good info on Facebook and Twitter.

I just hope America will invite me into their homes and hearts like Chicago did. The last five years were the best of my life. From the hundreds of schools I visited to the amazing charitable organizations like Brain Injury Association of Illinois, Chicago Children’s Choir and Make-A-Wish, Chicago will always hold such a dear place in my heart.

Q. Care to make any parting predictions?

A. Killer winter. And by “killer,” I don’t mean like the kids say these days. I mean it will be horrible. La Nina is in full swing and she won’t loosen her frozen grip on the Great Lakes. Oh, and Cubs win the World Series.

Q. Anything else?

A. Meteorologists don’t use a script, and most create their own graphics and certainly put together their own forecasts. Most of us went to school to become scientists — at least I did — and studied thermodynamics, physics, and tons of calculus to take this young science to the next level. Our accuracy is amazing and will only continue to improve. Before you badmouth your local meteorologists for “always being wrong,” count the times they are always right. I guarantee you will be happily surprised.

Oh, and if you are ever in New York City and I am filling in during the week, hold up your Chicago sign proudly in the crowd and I will do my best to get you on TV or sing Happy Birthday to you. Whatever it takes. I miss Chicago already.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)