CHICAGO — You could have a healthy debate about who was the greatest TV weatherperson in Chicago broadcast history. Tom Skilling, Harry Volkman, Jim Tilmon and John Coleman would likely make the list for many viewers.
But when it comes to who had the best name, Amy Freeze would be the winner.
Freeze — yes, that’s her real name — worked at Fox 32 Chicago from 2007 to 2011 before leaving for ABC7 in New York, where she has been a weekend weathercaster for the past decade. Starting this week, the Utah-born, Indiana-raised Freeze, 47, is going nationwide as an anchor at the new 24/7 Fox Weather streaming network.
Fox Weather is hoping Freeze will provide some name recognition in Chicago for the ad-supported network, a would-be digital rival to the Weather Channel. The service features live video weathercasts through a free mobile app and on internet-connected TVs via Fox Now, the Fox News app and Tubi.
The network has a team of 120 meteorologists — including local weathercasters at Fox-owned TV stations such as WFLD in Chicago — to produce round-the-clock weather content.
Freeze, who will host afternoons on Fox Weather, was a relative blip on Chicago’s TV radar, but Fox is banking on the city’s long love affair with its weathercasters — past and present — to stimulate local interest in the network.
“I do hope people will remember me and will rekindle some of those connections,” Freeze said. “I had a great time in Chicago.”
The first female chief meteorologist at a Chicago TV station, Freeze appeared on the perennially low-rated Fox 32 late evening local newscasts for four years. She also delivered Bears game day weather reports from Soldier Field, live on air and supersized on the stadium’s Jumbotron.
Freeze developed a devoted Chicago fan base, while her descriptive name brought her national recognition, including a spot on the “Jeopardy!” TV game board during a June 2008 broadcast.
The clue: “Appropriately, Amy Freeze was this age when she became a meteorologist for WFLD in January 2007.”
The correct response: “What is 32?”
Raised in southern Indiana, Freeze went to college in Utah — she was a cheerleader and communications major at BYU — and earned a second degree in meteorology at Mississippi State, once her career destiny became clear.
“This is the name I was born with,” Freeze said. “It was meant to be.”
Freeze worked as a weathercaster at TV stations in several major markets including Denver and Philadelphia before arriving in Chicago in 2007. She fell in love with the city and its history of venerated, long-tenured TV weathercasters.
“We all love Tom Skilling. We all love Jerry Taft,” Freeze said. “When I was there, presenting the weather and forecasting alongside them, it was a real honor.”
Freeze hoped to make the Chicago TV market her professional home for many years and was surprised when her contract was not renewed in February 2011. She left for New York two months later.
“When my contract came up, I had so many opportunities to go places, it was hard to be too disappointed,” Freeze said. “I love Chicago and I would have stayed there, of course.”
Chicago fans were less forgiving, regularly booing Bill Bellis, her successor as chief meteorologist at Fox 32, when his face appeared on the Soldier Field Jumbotron instead of Freeze’s during the 2011 football season. Bellis left the station earlier this year after his contract was not renewed.
Freeze said the Fox Weather streaming network will bring her back to Chicago through an innovative platform, with live national weather reports, localized forecasts and a familiar face streamed on your smartphone.
“I think that this is the future of how weather will be consumed,” Freeze said. “When you open up the app … you hit the button live, and I’ll be talking to you in a matter of seconds.”
Fox Weather’s main competitor may be the Weather Channel, a nearly 40-year-old cable network which is beefing up its own digital offerings in the wake of cord-cutting, with a paid streaming service set to launch later this year.
Allen Media Group, the company founded by comedian and entrepreneur Byron Allen, bought the Weather Channel cable network for $300 million in 2018. IBM bought the Weather Channel’s digital and data assets, including weather.com and its mobile apps, for more than $2 billion in 2015.
Another competitor is AccuWeather, a 60-year-old Pennsylvania-based company that employs more than 125 meteorologists to provide localized forecasts for media outlets across the country.
AccuWeather has also staked out turf in the digital media world with its own weather website, app and a recently launched streaming network.
Jon Porter, chief meteorologist at AccuWeather, is skeptical Fox has the expertise to accurately forecast national weather with local precision.
“I think clearly Fox has significant experience and resources for news gathering, sports and financial information,” Porter said. “But what we know from our success over 60 years is it takes a very specialized and focused infrastructure to be successful at weather warnings, weather forecasting and weather communications.”
Some media analysts question whether the polarizing Fox brand will inspire trust in its weather forecasts, particularly in blue states, with conservative Fox News commentators frequently expressing doubts about climate change. Freeze said there “will be climate conversation” on the new network and how it impacts different communities.
In Chicago, Freeze is hoping viewers will remember the TV weathercaster with the name that was almost too good to be true.
“When the weather is going to turn serious, you’re more comfortable hearing those types of really important sources of information if you know the person,” Freeze said. “I hope that’s what I’ll bring to people in Chicago, once again, is that familiarity.”©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.