After more than 30 years as a television weatherman, Jeff Lyons was accustomed to people honking a horn or pulling a goofy face from time to time as they passed by his outdoor live shots.
Lyons, 55, set up a green screen at home to do his 10 p.m. weather report. Three weeks into his new routine, Betty showed up.
Betty is Lyons’s 11-year-old cat.
Shortly before Lyons’s three-minute weathercast on April 13, Betty sauntered out from beneath the dining room table. His news director back at the station saw him petting Betty on the live feed during a commercial.
“Is that your cat?” the news director asked Lyons. “You should put her on the air.”
Lyons wasn’t sure it was a great idea.
“But I did it,” he said. “I held the cat up and on it went from there.”
He cradled his gray and white longhair feline in both arms and introduced her to his viewers. Betty lazily looked at the camera and twitched her tail. A star was born.
The next morning, Lyons posted a screen shot to his Facebook page of him holding Betty in front of the weekly Evansville forecast.
“I didn’t think much of it, but then I got a text from my nephew,” said Lyons. “He said, ‘My God, you’re trending on Reddit.’”
That was his first inkling that Betty, who has been the Lyons’s family cat for a decade, was becoming a celebrity cat.
Betty is now so popular that she has her own Instagram page and is on the Channel 14 weather segment most nights with her own “Betty the Weathercat” graphic.
Lyons built a small “throne” for her next to his green screen, and he uses computer-animated graphics of Betty as a catalyst for his forecast. (An umbrella on her tail means that rain is on the way, while sunny skies usually get a paws-up.)
Viewers have liked his posts and videos more than half a million times and regularly leave comments for Betty, along with snapshots of their own cats.
“I think she will need a raise soon,” wrote one fan. “That 1 can of tuna is just not gonna cut it.”
“So long Jeff, it has been great watching you over these past years!” posted another. “Betty has taken over! She is a purrrfect meteorologist!”
Lyons, who has worked at Channel 14 for the past three decades, said he learned a long time ago to have fun while doing the weather.
“When the weather is threatening, you have to be serious, but for the rest of the time, it’s important to be happy,” he said. “My sense is that people want a diversion right now during this horrible pandemic. They’re looking for something that’s kind of fun. So at least for now, doing the forecast with Betty fits right in.”
There was a time, Lyons said, when he wondered whether he should pursue a career as a stand-up comedian when he attended Indiana University in the 1980s.
“Then I realized that wouldn’t provide me with a home and stability,” he said, “so naturally, I chose television instead.”
Initially hired as a features reporter at a station in Terre Haute, Ind., he was quickly promoted to become the “weather guy,” Lyons said, when the station manager noticed he had an offbeat sense of humor.
“The die was then cast,” he said, “but it was the right call.”
Throughout his career at Channel 14, Lyons has been on the lookout for ways to liven up his nightly forecast. He’s dressed up as Benjamin Franklin on Halloween, and he’s done live shots from the Goodyear Blimp.
Delivering notices about hailstorms and high winds from his dining room with Betty, though, has required him to take things to a new level.
“When I turn on the dining room light, she comes running in, so I’ll put her on her throne and she’ll usually sit there and watch me or start washing herself on live television,” he said.
He reasoned that when the weather forecast turns potentially dangerous, it might not be a good idea to be having fun with Betty.
“When we get our first tornado watch, I’m thinking I might have to put her in the basement,” he said.
If that happens, he said, he’ll brace for some fur to fly from her adoring fans.
He knows that as long as everyone is stuck at home, the people will demand Betty the Weathercat.
“There was no going back once Betty was on the air,” he said.
This story has been updated to reflect that Betty’s color is gray and white.
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