Winds of Change

It isn’t easy to spin a daily forecast like “cold and snowy,” but for 22 years, TV meteorologist Paul Douglas managed to keep us upbeat about the prospect of sun breaks and snow days. In April, a flurry of storm-cloud metaphors followed the news that he’d been let go from WCCO, where he’d worked since 1997. But Douglas says there are blue skies ahead.

Stormy Weather

Catching up with Paul Douglas

By Laine Bergeson

Paul Douglas’s forecasting skills are better than most. But the popular TV weatherman says he was caught by surprise when his employer, WCCO, handed him a pink slip this past spring. Here, he opens up about making predictions, the future of forecasting, and the shifting winds of his professional fortune. Next month, he begins writing a regular column for Minnesota Monthly.

Predicting the weather—how hard is it, really?

In my humble estimation, it’s the ultimate intellectual challenge. It’s like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. We don’t have great data from everywhere around the world: We have good information over the land areas, but very little data over the oceans. It’s no wonder the seven-day forecast is as bad as it is.

Is that why people grumble that the weatherman is always wrong?

By the time you get out to seven days, it’s 55 to 58 percent accuracy, but, surprisingly, people still want to hear it. They find it vaguely reassuring.

Did you foresee your own—

My own demise?

Um, well…I was going to say “your own dark storm cloud approaching….”
My television death? My near-death experience?! [Laughs.] It was the closest you can come to attending your own funeral—all the words of condolence and sympathy. I kept thinking I was in the Monty Python skit that takes place during the plague and this old guy is loaded onto a cart and keeps yelling out, “But I’m not dead yet!” I’m that guy.

I was blind-sided, but I’m okay. I had already planted some seeds in new media, and you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to tell which way the wind is blowing. People are abandoning television and jumping over to new media. I want to be part of that future.

So what is next for you?
I’m launching a new company in June called WeatherNation that will syndicate weather for a variety of clients: online providers, cable channels, broadcasters looking to cut costs—I know something about that—anybody with a special need for weather content.

So you plan to stay in Minnesota?
I’ve sampled the East. I’ve sampled Chicago. I think Minnesota is as good as it gets.

Parking It

If state officials can complete the deal, Minnesota will soon be home to Lake Vermilion State Park—the first new park in three decades. Here’s how the numbers stack up.

340: Miles of shoreline on Lake Vermilion
4.93: Miles of shoreline the park would make public
450,000: Estimated number of yearly park visitors
150: Number of luxury homes envisioned for the site if the state’s purchase offer is rejected
20: Number of cabins planned for the park
0: Number of Minnesota parks offering wireless Internet, which Vermilion would feature
$8.5 million: Estimated amount that park visitors would spend annually in the area
$1.1 million: Estimated local tax payments the luxury homes would annually generate
91: Percentage of letter-writing constituents who oppose the creation of the park, as measured by e-mails received by Minnesota legislator Tom Rukavina, of Virginia

Party Plans

A look at the preparations for the parties in Pig’s Eye and the Mile High City


The Democrats plan to storm Denver in August. The Republicans will hit St. Paul a week later. What’s in store for the two parties and their host cities? The Dems have vowed to make their convention “the greenest ever,” with caterers serving locally grown or organic foods on recyclable plates. Members of the GOP, meanwhile, plan to party: Metro area bars will stay open two extra hours during the convention. Though schedules need to be finalized, speeches polished, and balloons inflated, here are a few things we do know about this year’s conventions.

Democratic National Convention
Republican National Convention
4,050Number of
Pepsi CenterPrimary venueXcel Energy Center
Hyatt Regency DenverOfficial headquarters
Hyatt Regency Minneapolis
Convention cars use ethanol made from Coors beer. (It’s true.)Showcase of environmental initiativesClimate control at headquarters cuts off at 5 p.m.
Baseball hat made of organic cotton ($22)Must-have souvenirLoon Tune, a toy that recreates the wail of the common loon ($14)
Recreate 68Awarded a protest permitCoalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War
Jeremiah WrightClergyman least likely to offer opening prayerJohn Hagee
Seating Michigan and Florida delegationsPotential controversyAcceptance of global warming
in party platform
Hillary ClintonMost anticipated speakerGeorge W. Bush
John KerryMost likely to be muzzledDick Cheney
SuperdelegatesMost relieved when it’s overSleepy St. Paul bartenders

Stage Coaches

Walnut Grove actors offer advice on “getting Wilder”

We wanted to be helpful. So in anticipation of this month’s premiere of the musical Little House on the Prairie at the Guthrie Theater, we asked residents of Walnut Grove, who produce the annual Wilder Pageant, if they had any advice for the big-city singers tackling the roles of Pa, Ma, Laura, and Mary.

“The best thing to do is to read the books,” says Beth Kleven, a high-school teacher who has played Laura Ingalls Wilder every summer since 1993. “Laura was just a kid when she started teaching school…. There’s definitely a playfulness about her.”

Errol Steffen, who has been in the show every year since its inception, in 1978, has taken the role of Charles, Laura’s pa, for the past 18 years. He hopes the Guthrie production will capture the struggles of pioneer life. But the Guthrie players should be prepared, he adds: They’ll encounter Little House fanatics armed with every last detail about the books and TV show. “If you go out to meet these people,” Steffen says, “you’re going to have to know the history.”


Hey, This Ain’t No Lutefisk…

If you can smell the cooking oil emanating from the St. Paul riverfront, then it must be the Taste of Minnesota. The food festival, now in its 27th year, hits Harriet Island from July 3 to 6. “If it doesn’t have sugar, grease, or smoke, we don’t try to serve it,” says Ron Maddox, Taste’s general manager. Here’s what’s new for 2008.

Treasure Island Resort & CasinoNine
A lobster tail dipped in a light tempura-like batter with a mild Southwestern seasoning, then deep-fried and skewered. Chef James Powers finishes it off with a squirt of lemon.Two.
Thanks to the stick, it’s not terribly messy.
Bennett’s Chops & Railhouse10
A 3 1/2-ounce filet medallion cut from the tenderloin and grilled—a sandwich designed by singer John Denver. Served with caramelized onions and horseradish cream sauce.Three.
Sauce and onions may ooze.
Derrick’s12 for three ribs ($7.50)Chef Derrick Williams barbecues a slab of pork ribs, then separates the individual ribs, batters and deep-fries ’em. Add a sweet-and-spicy sauce and—presto!—you’re in the deep South.Five.
Plus, two
wet wipes.
El Burrito MercadoSeven
An ear of corn is roasted, the husk is pulled back, and the exposed kernels are drenched in butter, sour cream, seasoned pepper, and cotija (a sort of Mexican Parmesan). Yum!Four.
Crumbling cheese will probably end up in your lap.
Who’s on First? Saloon and EaterySix for small dish ($3.75); 10 for a large ($6.25)Rice, Cajun seasoning, Andouille sausage, chicken, and tomato sauce mixed together. Chef Lionel Stewart brought this recipe to Minnesota from New Orleans.Two.
This is fork food.


The U’s law school grapples with a slip in the rankings

When David Wippman takes over as dean of the University of Minnesota Law School on July 1, he’ll have his work cut out for him: This past spring, for the first time in 12 years, U.S. News & World Report announced that the school had dropped out of the top 20 in the magazine’s annual ranking of the nation’s law schools.

U faculty have long claimed that the scores have little relationship to a school’s overall quality. Midway down the list, the differences between, say, 15th and 16th place can amount to little more than a few odd factors—like the number of books in the school’s library. Wippman argues that the formula can “create some perverse incentives” for schools to game the numbers (buying more volumes for the stacks, for example). Still, he’s happy to highlight the spots where the U is a standout: “On one measure, peer reputation…

Minnesota is still doing very well,” Wippman says.

Administrators concede that the list has a major impact on a school’s ability to recruit students and faculty, place graduates in sought-after jobs, and tease dollars from alumni pockets. “We do hear from lots of students that it is something they pay attention to,” says Wippman, who already has his finger on the school’s pulse. “If the ranking falls, alumni express concern. If it goes up, they are appreciative of that.”

Wippman, a Minnesota native, most recently did double duty as a vice provost and law professor at Cornell University, which, incidentally, is number 12 on the list. Not that anyone’s keeping track.


The Curtain Who’s up, who’s down in local arts


Sarah Agnew

– Fresh from one-woman success The Syringa Tree, former Jeune Lune ingénue snags title role in Guthrie’s The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, which opens this month

Nancy Ann Coyne – The photographer’s portraits of immigrants opens this month as Minneapolis’s first skyway art show.

Bill Holm – Named McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist and Minnesota Law & Politics correspondent for the national Republican Convention—though he’s never turned on a computer  or owned a TV. Genius or out-of-touch dinosaur?

Ordway Theatre – Expansion plans would benefit the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra but might eliminate smaller, more adventurous shows.

Guthrie Theater – The venerable institution claims its Little House on the Prairie musical, starring Melissa Gilbert, is intended as more than a cash cow. We say: Moo.


Art in the Open

Al fresco entertainment sounds great—until a Frisbee lands in your potato salad and the band is struck by lightning. Here’s what to expect of several outdoor arts events. 


« Music in the Zoo

Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater, Apple Valley
Mosquito factor (1 is lowest)

: 5
On stage: Shawn Phillips, Chris Isaak, Hootie and the Blowish, among others
Watch out for: cougars (not the feline kind)
Location bonus: free zoo admission

« Shakespeare in the Park

Various Minneapolis parks
Mosquito factor:

On stage: Love’s Labour’s Lost, highly abridged
Watch out for: Renaissance Fair fans in withdrawal
Location bonus: watch wayward Frisbees knock actors back to the 16th century

« Stevie Ray’s Improv in the Park

Lake Harriet Rose Garden, Minneapolis
Mosquito factor:

On stage: Stevie Ray’s improv comedy troupe
Watch out for: superfans, smart alecks, wedding parties
Location bonus: lake views still free

« Walker Art Center Music and Movies

Loring Park, Minneapolis
Mosquito factor:

On stage: Duck Soup, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Manchurian Candidate, and more
Watch out for: hipper-than-thous, bums, the porta-john
Location bonus: drinks at Joe’s Garage or Lurcat

Winona vs. Tanglewood

How does the river city, host of both the Great River Shakespeare Festival and the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, compare to the granddaddy of outdoor arts gatherings?


Historic town about 130 miles from MinneapolisThis month: All-Beethoven program by
Minnesota Orchestra
Hosted A Prairie
Home Companion

in February
Located in scenic bluff countryClassic meal: Pork
chops at Timbers
Annual Visitors (2007) 17,589
Historic estate about 130 miles from BostonThis month: All-Beethoven program by Bostom Symphony OrchestraHosted A Prairie Home Companion in JuneLocated in scenic BerkshiresClassic meal: Picnic with hors d’oeuvres, wine, candelabraAnnual visitors (estimated): 350.000