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Originally published Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 4:59 PM

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Longtime weatherman Harry Wappler dies at 73

Former KIRO-TV weatherman Harry Wappler, 73, who for nearly three decades was a friendly face beaming into local households, died Wednesday afternoon, said his son, Andy Wappler.

Seattle Times staff reporter

What came across the TV screen was that Harry Wappler, who for 30 years at KIRO-TV told Seattle about the weather, was a nice, caring guy you could trust.

That bonded him with generations of Seattleites for whom Mr. Wappler became part of their extended families.

Mr. Wappler, 73, of Mercer Island, died Wednesday afternoon at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue after suffering a stroke from complications of a 25-year battle with Crohn's disease, said his son, Andy Wappler.

The son said his father was that comforting neighbor "in a society that's increasingly busy, with anonymous hustle and bustle."

Steve Raible, a KIRO anchor, said what connected Mr. Wappler with the audience was simple:

"Yeah, he wanted to be correct meteorologically, but more importantly, he wanted to be that guy who was the neighbor who could tell you whether to take a hat or raincoat that morning," said Raible, who joined KIRO in 1982.

Mr. Wappler said his dad became a household name in an era when the local network affiliates dominated, before the Internet and 100-plus choices on cable.

Mr. Wappler became a weather forecaster by a happy accident. He had no previous training in meteorology. But in 1969, he got a job at KIRO to write editorials for Lloyd Cooney, the head of the station.

KIRO was changing its format to "Eyewitness News," which included banter among the various news personalities. Some called it "Happy Talk."

Wappler said his dad remembered Cooney telling him, "You look like a weatherman."

Presumably that was due to his trustworthy looks.

Wappler said his dad "promptly bought the 'Little Golden Book of Weather.' It was for kids."

But he took his studies seriously, and was tutored at the University of Washington by meteorologists, enough to qualify for a bachelor's degree. He was certified by the American Society of Meteorologists.

Although Mr. Wappler has been described as having a Boy Scout image, he did have a bit of a rebel in him, said Andy Wappler.

He owned a 1976 silver Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and a 1987 candy-apple red Corvette. The Trans Am had "a firebird decal that covered half of the hood," said the son.

"People saw him in that Corvette and they'd say, 'Is that Harry?' Yes it was," said Wappler.

On the bawdy side, Susan Hutchison, an anchor at KIRO from 1981 to 2002, remembered Mr. Wappler's comment one time during a commercial break. A story had just aired over the controversy of who was the father of a frozen embryo. Hutchison remembered, "Harry said, 'What do you call the father of a frozen embryo? A POPsicle?' "

Mr. Wappler's only departure from KIRO was from 1972 to 1975 when he was the weekend weatherman at WNBC-TV in New York.

Born on Dec. 21, 1936, in Park Ridge, Ill., Mr. Wappler earned an undergraduate degree in speech in 1958 at Northwestern University, followed in 1960 by a graduate degree in theology from Yale Divinity School.

Mr. Wappler became an ordained Episcopal minister and served in parishes in Jacksonville, Fla., and Wilmette, Ill., said his son. Then he switched careers and worked in public relations for Commonwealth Edison in Chicago.

"I think my dad enjoyed the theology and communication part of it," said Andy Wappler. "But he wasn't cut out for the day-to-day work of running a parish."

Mr. Wappler married in 1959, and he and his wife, Mary, who died in 2002, had two sons.

The Wapplers, with two little boys and no savings, moved from the Midwest to Seattle after reading a Life magazine story about this city, said Andy Wappler.

Wappler followed his dad into TV forecasting, and from 1994 to 2008 was at KIRO. He's now vice president of corporate affairs for Puget Sound Energy.

Mr. Wappler is survived by his sons and five grandchildren. Memorial services are pending.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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