Burns – married to Susan for 47 years and father of two grown children – has covered hundreds of watches from tornadoes and severe thunderstorms as well as the wandering winter snowpocalypse. “The weather has become more particular over time,” he noted, although he said he still got pushed back by some viewers on social media when he brought up climate change in a meaningful way.
He said he has also seen weather forecasting improve over the decades, thanks to better computer models and tracking equipment. When he arrived at the WSB, he could only be really confident in his forecasts 48 hours in advance. Now he said he can offer five-day predictions and rarely make a mistake.
He is the latest to leave WSB-TV of what has been dubbed the “Fab Four” news crew of the 1990s and 2000s, which also included John Pruitt, Monica Pearson and Chuck Dowdle. (Coincidentally, the four of them reunited at WSB headquarters Wednesday night at an event promoting Pruitt’s new historical fiction book “Tell It True.”)
Burns, who spent more than four decades in landlocked Atlanta, grew up in Fort Lauderdale by the beach and became an avid surfer. “I’ve always loved the ocean,” he said. “The breeze, the salty air. There is no such thing.
He said his interest in weather was piqued at the age of 15 when he was on the beach during a thunderstorm and lightning struck him so close he felt the blast wave.
Burns earned a journalism degree at the University of Florida in 1975 and landed his first job as a reporter at a West Palm Beach television station. He loved reporting science stories and after the chief meteorologist was fired, he stepped in at age 24.
A week into his new stint, he remembers finishing the 6 p.m. news and seeing a young child running down the hall screaming that his father had fallen over the seawall into the ocean.
Instinctively, Burns said he took off his jacket and shirt and jumped in to chase the submerged man. “It was freezing cold,” he said. “It was dark. The water was 20 feet deep. I was tossing about doing dives going up and down. On my fourth trip, my foot hit the man’s face. I caught him. He weighed about 300 lbs. I shot him. My lungs were going to explode, but I brought him to the surface and people managed to pull him out. I did CPR and he survived.
After nearly three years in West Palm Beach, he landed a TV weather job in Minneapolis, where he also earned a master’s degree in astrophysics from the University of Minnesota and earned enough credits to become a certified meteorologist. He was not thrilled by the cold, and after another two and a half years, he eagerly said yes when WSB-TV offered him a job in Atlanta in early 1982.
“When I left Minneapolis, the wind chill was 65 degrees below zero,” he recalls. But Atlanta was in the midst of its own “snow jam”: four inches of snow and freezing rain. “The city was in chaos,” he said. “The forecast was not good. My goal from then on was to never make that mistake again.
Burns said his predictions were accurate during the snowstorms of 1993 (30 inches!) and 2014, when people were stuck on icy roads for so long they abandoned their vehicles. Cities and counties failed to properly pre-treat highways with brine to prevent them from freezing, he said, even though he thought he had made good predictions. He said officials in the region now have better protocols to prevent this from happening again.
In 2016, Burns started feeling short of breath. Doctors found a major leak in one of Burns’ aortic valves, and he underwent open-heart surgery so a surgeon could insert a replacement valve. He said he feared he would have to retire, but was able to come back as strong as ever.
Pearson, his former colleague, liked his approach to the weather because he “gave you the information in a calm and reassuring way, without histrionics or scare tactics”.
After all these decades, Burns said he never tires of the weather. Even on days when there is not a cloud in the sky, he tries to convey weather facts and scientific knowledge to the public. As Pearson noted, “He taught you about the weather through his daily segments, from cloud formations to instructions on what to do if you get caught in your car during a tornado. Glenn at heart is a scientist .
Pruitt marveled at Burns’ composure no matter what. “I’ve never seen Glenn lose his temper, get angry or say a discouraging word to anyone,” he said. “He’s remarkably consistent in the way he lives his life and does the weather.”
And as Burns prepares to do his final weeks of forecasting, he said he has nothing but gratitude for his family. “My wife and children have so much merit for their patience,” he said. “It’s such a demanding job. There are no good hours. I dropped them so many times when the weather was bad.
Although he owns a fishing boat in Florida and snorkels when he visits family in West Palm Beach, he has no plans to leave Atlanta. “I love the change of seasons,” he said. He has a lifelong interest in space and owns a telescope with plans to focus on astrophotography. He would also like to teach.
As for his last day on the air as chief, Burns isn’t sure what to say: “Usually I ad-lib but I can take a few notes because I have so many people to thank.”