Denver7 | Weather


From Denver’s first weather computer to training Al Roker, Mike Nelson helped transform forecasting

The technology has changed, but the passion for weather hasn't.
Posted: 1:33 PM, Nov 02, 2023
Updated: 2023-11-02 15:33:23-04
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Denver7 Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson has been delivering the weather since Jimmy Carter was in office.

Weather maps were drawn or built by hand, and severe weather warnings were issued for entire counties, no matter how narrow the threat may have been – a far cry from the fine-tuned watches and warnings that are part of Denver7 forecasts today.

Photos from the Denver7 archives show meteorologist Larry Green delivering a built-by-hand forecast featuring movable icons on a physical map mounted on a wall.

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Denver7 meteorologist Larry Green, c.1977-72

“In the old days, you had to hand plot everything, and do all the analysis and then the forecasting that way,” Nelson said, looking back on the history of forecasting as part of Denver7 celebrating its 70th anniversary on the airwaves. “Now, computers do so much of the work.”

But that work, in many ways, couldn’t be done without Nelson himself.

From 1979 through 1984, Nelson installed TV weather computers at over 50 TV stations across the nation as part of his job with weather consulting firm Weather Central. And TV viewers across the country are still seeing the impact.

Mike, on the far left, with weather systems at Weather Cenral

“I took a computer and delivered it to a certain gentleman named Al Roker and trained him on his very first weather computer,” Nelson recalled.

Then, he brought the first ever weather computer to Denver, where he trained longtime Colorado forecaster Stormy Rottman.

Keeping it old school

Even as a pioneer in forecasting technology, Mike still likes to keep it old school. He still keeps a “map room,” which, years ago, was where meteorologists would print out large maps and put them on a wall to do the analysis and forecasting.

Mike Nelson is his "map room" at the Denver7 studios

“I'm still kind of hardwired to do it that way,” Nelson said. “So I still like to grab a map and actually hand analyze it to show where all the little subtleties are as far as storm systems developing.”

Mike even broke out the hand-drawn map on television during a brief weather graphics system failure back in December of 2020.

Inspiring the next generation

Throughout his career, Nelson has spoken to more than 750,000 children at schools across Colorado.

Among them is Denver7’s own Lisa Hidalgo, a morning meteorologist who has been at the station since 2006 but was in the crowd as a fifth-grader years ago for one of Mike’s school visits.

“I remember thinking when I came to the studio watching him do what he does, I thought, ‘How does that man walk and talk at the same time?’ And then here I am getting to work with him,” Hidalgo said.

Denver7 meteorologists Mike Nelson and Lisa Hidalgo

Mike and Lisa have also each visited Lockheed Martin facilities in Colorado, where they’ve built state-of-the-art satellites that assist in more precise forecasting.

Nelson recounted one of those visits:

“They said, ‘Hey, Mr. Nelson, can we take a selfie with you?’ And I said, ‘Sure, why?’ And they said, ‘Oh, you totally came to our grade schools when we were little kids.’ And now they're rocket scientists,” he said.

Mike during a visit to Lockheed Martin

For Mike, the school visits aren’t about producing 200 forecasters or satellite builders, though. It’s more about making the next generation more weather-aware.

“I don't think there's going to be 200 kids who are going to become meteorologists out there,” he said. “But I hope that we can inspire those 200 kids to become more literate in science and curious about science so that they will learn the facts about what's happening in our world and make the right decisions moving forward – that we can can fix the things that need fixing.”

Mike and Lisa bring 67 combined years of experience, and, along with Stacey Donaldson and Katie LaSalle, bring in-depth weather coverage to Coloradans wherever you are, on any device. Watch Denver7’s 24/7 weather stream below or here.