"It's a beautiful day today. We can see a beautiful blue sky and lots of sunshine . . . "
And with those words uttered a little past 4 p.m. Monday, beloved Channel 2 Action News chief meteorologist Glenn Burns was back on the air.
He was talking about the Atlanta weather outside, of course. But Burns, who'd been away for exactly six weeks following open heart surgery, might just as well have been discussing the upbeat atmosphere inside WSB-TV's Midtown studios as well.
For the past few hours, as Burns had gotten back into the swing of studying long-range forecasts and thinking about promos, he'd constantly been sought out by colleagues who swept him into heartfelt embraces. And it continued during the 4 p.m. newscast, when Burns co-anchors Craig Lucie and Erin Coleman at the anchor desk for an on-air chat before he talked about the weather for the first time.
"I'm feeling great," Burns said in response to a question from Coleman.
"The beard was great," he concurred with Lucie, who'd teasingly referred to the beard Burns had grown during his convalescence, which 80 percent of people responding to a Twitter poll had said he should keep (Alas, Burns shaved it off Sunday night).
Burns also took the time to address the overwhelming support, beard-related and otherwise, he'd received from the public.
"It's so wonderful to be back and I want to really thank everybody for your cards, your well-wishes, your prayers," he said. "It really helped."
He knew he had to acknowledge what he’d been through and all the positive feedback he’d received, Burns confided in an interview some 90 minutes before that first newscast. He also admitted to being a bit nervous.
“I’m hoping I remember how to do everything,” said Burns, who’s been at WSB for 35 years. “This is a whole new experience I’m going into.”
It had less to do with discussing high-pressure fronts than appreciating second chances.
“I’m not taking anything for granted anymore,” Burns said, his voice catching slightly. “I’m going to be savoring every moment out there.”
It was six weeks ago today that he underwent open heart surgery to replace a faulty aortic valve. The condition was causing his heart to enlarge and could have led to serious, even life-threatening damage down the road.
That first surgery went well, but days later, Burns developed what’s called a “heart block.” The top of his heart was beating differently from the bottom part. So it was back into surgery, where the veteran meteorologist had a pacemaker installed.
His recuperation was full of physical surprises, among them extreme fatigue and weight loss.
“I used to work out all the time, but five weeks later I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Who’s that guy,’” Burns said as he sat at a bank of weather computers alongside fellow meteorologist Brad Nitz. “And then your brain is at odds with your body at times.”
“Do you still remember how to do a forecast?” he wisecracked.
Even more stunning — and heartening — to Burns was the outpouring of concern and affection from viewers and others. Always cool and collected when discussing even the worst weather, Burns on Monday nearly choked up in talking about all the cards, emails and supportive Facebook posts he’d received.
“I’ve always wanted to help people in times of crisis,” Burns said. “And they turned around and helped me this time.”
His doctors had wanted him to wait until next week to come back to work, but Burns, who'll appear on the 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts initially, had pushed for Monday. The 2 p.m. news meeting had erupted into spontaneous applause when he turned up, clean-shaven and accompanied by his weather colleagues Nitz, Karen Minton and Brian Monahan. A celebratory cooler of popsicles was rolled out, Burns exchanged some jokes and heartfelt good wishes with everyone assembled in the newsroom, and then, he uttered the words that made it clear he was back on the job.
“Let’s go do some promos!”