CHICAGO – When he was a kid, Mike Janssen would accompany his father, David, to watch severe storms from their family farm in Herscher.
Janssen saw Mother Nature’s effect on humanity as a farm boy. He saw the 1988 drought devastate his family’s corn and soybean fields, as well as their finances.
It was those moments that ultimately led the 1994 Herscher High School graduate to the weather industry. After eight years of working at WGN-TV, the area will be seeing more of Janssen on Channel 9.
WGN promoted Janssen as its Weekend Evening News weather forecaster. Janssen will give the forecast at 5 and 9 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. He will take over for Jim Ramsey, who retired in December after 30 years in weather.
“It’s a dream come true to know I have a full-time position at WGN where my family and friends can watch me on Saturday and Sunday nights,” Janssen said. “There is also the humbling aspect of filling the shoes of Jim Ramsey, who was the greatest example of class. I’m not trying to replace him. I’m just following in his shoes.”
From sports to weather
Janssen’s trek to becoming WGN’s weekend weather forecaster brought him through the farm fields of Herscher, newsroom of University of Southern Illinois, the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and, ultimately, his urban backyard of Chicago.
His interest in weather developed at a young age on the family farm.
“When Michael was little, we lived out on a farm in the middle of nowhere,” Janssen’s mother, Jean, recalled. “Thunderstorms and heavy winds would come in, and his sister and I would go into the basement while Michael and his dad went outside to watch it.”
However, Janssen, who played baseball and ran track at Herscher High School, initially went to Southern Illinois University with the intention of becoming a sports broadcaster.
His career aspirations changed when the university’s student broadcasting team needed someone to deliver the weather forecasts. So, Janssen split his efforts between sports and weather while chasing his degree in mass communications.
That experience was a launch pad into the weather industry, as Janssen went on to earn his meteorologist certification at Mississippi State University.
“Everything I did at SIU set me up for my career,” Janssen said. “I owe everything I have done professionally to what that school gave me the chance to do as a student.”
After seven years at WSIL-TV in Carterville, Janssen got his big break at WGNO-TV in New Orleans. In his first forecast in New Orleans, Janssen warned residents of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall the next day.
Janssen hadn’t even unpacked the boxes at his apartment in New Orleans before he had to leave the city because of flood conditions. For him, it was “baptism by fire.” He spent the next three years of his career covering the aftermath of the hurricane.
“I learned more during Katrina and the first two months after it than I did in my first three or four years in weather,” Janssen told the Daily Journal last fall. “Personally, it made me realize that we put too much weight in the material things. It hurts if you lose your house, wedding pictures and baby pictures, but surviving something like that is the most important thing you will ever learn.”
Janssen moved back to Illinois after his wife, Kasha, became a morning show producer at WGN-TV. His weather career went on a 10-month hiatus as he searched for a weather job.
“For me, it was an opportunity to come home, regardless,” said Janssen, who worked at a hardware store and blogged before becoming a meteorologist at WYIN-TV in Merrillville, Ind., in June 2009.
After a year of working in Merrillville, Janssen joined the WGN Weather Center as producer and forecaster. He quickly established himself by creating the “Friday Forecaster” segment, which gives students a chance to deliver the weather forecast on Friday mornings. His 6-year-old daughter, Lexi, appeared on the segment a couple of weeks ago.
Through his work at WGN, Janssen became the talk of Herscher.
“The town is very supportive of him,” Jean Janssen said. “My church [Trinity Lutheran] is so cute because they saw him growing up. They always say they saw him on TV.”
Janssen still visits his hometown to discuss weather and often references the small village on-air and on his Facebook page. In fact, he gets a lot of reports from old friends and neighbors.
“The connection to Herscher is near and dear to my heart,” Janssen said. “Yes, I am making forecasts in Chicago, but I’m always looking at Herscher. I have made phone calls to relatives in Herscher to tell them they have a tornado warning. I have a responsibility to them and my hometown.”
Working for the Weekend
Janssen made his weekend forecast debut during Memorial Day weekend. As he prepares for his next forecast Sunday, he ponders what his late father, who died in 2014, would think.
“My father would be as proud as he could be,” Janssen said. “He was a farmer. Because of him, I knew how weather affected my family. I knew how it affected people. Now, I am following droughts, tornadoes — whatever it may be — to warn people.”
While locals can expect to see Janssen give the forecast every Saturday and Sunday at 5 and 9 p.m., they still can expect to see him in the field on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
“I have to keep my big rain boots and ski pants around,” Janssen said. “You just never know with weather. To me, that is the funnest part. The forecast is enjoyable. Going out and seeing what Mother Nature can do is, to me, the most exciting aspect of this job.”