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John Coleman, Chicago meteorologist and Weather Channel co-founder, dies at 83

John Coleman presents the weather on WLS-Channel 7 in 1976. | Sun-Times file

LAS VEGAS — Former Chicago weather forecaster John Coleman, who co-founded The Weather Channel and was the original meteorologist on ABC’s “Good Morning America” during a six-decade broadcasting career, has died. He was 83.

His wife, Linda Coleman, told The Associated Press her husband died Saturday night at home in Las Vegas. She did not give a cause.

The Texas native got his first TV job while still a student at the University of Illinois. Coleman worked in Champaign and Peoria, Illinois; Omaha, Nebraska, and Milwaukee before joining WBBM-Channel 2 in 1967.

He became one of the most colorful and controversial figures in local television, jumping to WLS-Channel 7 in 1968 and playing a leading comedic role in the station’s “happy talk” news operation. He was known for such on-air antics as standing on his head or spritzing seltzer at the news anchors.

His ratings success at Channel 7 led to a six-year run, starting in 1977, as national weatherman for ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Coleman fulfilled a longtime dream in May 1982, when he launched The Weather Channel, a 24-hour cable weather service, based in Atlanta. In a bitter fight with his partners, Coleman was forced out the following year.

John Coleman (right) appears with fellow Weather Channel founder Frank Batten at a 1981 news conference in New York. | Marty Lederhandler/AP

Coleman worked briefly for WCBS-TV in New York before returning to Chicago in 1984 to join WMAQ-Channel 5, where he came under fire from critics and colleagues for dire predictions of blizzards, deep freezes and other calamities in his forecasts.

Forecasters on rival channels took Coleman to task on the air one day in 1989 for warning that temperatures around Chicago would plunge to a record 30 degrees below zero. On the day in question, the temperature actually fell to minus 11.

After leaving Channel 5 in 1990, Coleman went on to join KUSI-TV in San Diego, where he spent 20 years as weatherman for its morning show before retiring in 2014.

As the science of climate change was promoted by Al Gore and others, Coleman became a vocal skeptic. “There is no significant manmade global warming,” he said in a 2008 speech to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. “There has not been any in the past, there is none now and there is no reason to fear any in the future. The climate of Earth is changing. It has always changed. But mankind’s activities have not overwhelmed or significantly modified the natural forces.”

Contributing: Sun-Times archives