Beloved weatherman's suicide leaves Kansas City stunned, grieving
Kansas City's weather forecasters occupy a conflicting position in the public psyche: They're at once adored cult figures and targets of wrath, cheered for their personalities and accosted for misfires on predicting the oft-dramatic storm systems that traverse America’s mid-section.
Often longtime residents, the forecasters are such local fixtures that their lives are subject to rampant casual scrutiny and gossip in a town where sometimes it can be a little hard to hide.
So when local FOX 4 weatherman Don Harman committed suicide last week at the age of 41, it was almost as if someone had ripped out a chunk of Kansas City skyline, exposing the close bond residents have with the familiar strangers who bring the weather into their homes.
"I miss watching him in the morning! I used to lay in bed every morning until I saw the weather report from him," one woman confessed on Facebook, where tributes poured out after the suicide.
Harman, who is survived by a wife and daughter, was part of the highest-rated morning show in Kansas City for more than a decade. "Don Harman is gone so ain't no weather forecast going to be accurate," another tweeted.
Harman’s popularity in life -- he was known for his great humor -- has made his death hard to downplay in a place where suicides typically pass quietly, a collision of social taboos over suicide, wishes to respect family and quieter worries that too much attention could lead to copycats. Indeed, much of the aftermath played out live.
“Harman’s close friend and morning show co-host Mark Alford looked shell-shocked as he read the announcement at 4:45 a.m. asking for patience from viewers who were bombarding the station’s switchboard and posting messages to social media,” noted Kansas City Star TV critic Aaron Barnhart.
The announcements continued throughout the day, and Harman’s colleagues later wept as they discussed his death on-air.
But Harman’s public standing has also turned an often hush-hush subject into a moment of public awareness. Harman’s family agreed to share interviews with FOX 4 “in hopes that will help erase the stigma of depression and suicide.”
Meanwhile, a public memorial is set for Dec. 17, which Kansas City Mayor Sly James announced Thursday would be “Don Harman Day.”
“The difficulty in this job is to have that good blend of left-brain, right-brain,” local KMBC-TV meteorologist Bryan Busby told the Kansas City Star.
“We’re scientists, we’re geeks, we know math. So to have a meteorologist who also has that personality — someone who can make you smile — is a rare quality. And Don had both.”
-- Matt Pearce in Kansas City, Mo.
Video: FOX 4 News, Kansas City, Mo.