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Forecast: Upbeat

December 29, 1997

Channel 5 Meteorologist Is Ready For Whatever New Storms Blow Her Way

By Bob Goldsborough
Special to Chicago Tribune.

When WMAQ-Ch. 5’s newest weather forecaster, Shelly Monahan, accepted her job in August, she knew she was racing head-on into a storm – both literally and figuratively.

Monahan definitely expected some inclement weather in the Windy City. And her new station was still trying to overcome negative impact of the Jerry SpringerCarol MarinRon Magers debacle.

But given the enormous obstacles in life that Monahan, 38, already has overcome, it’s safe to say that she can handle whatever challenges greet her, whether from the sky or from the newsroom. A rape survivor, the upbeat meteorologist has shown remarkable resiliency, both personally and professionally, during her 17-year career.

Along the way, Monahan has developed a strong rapport with viewers in the cities she has worked in, including Spokane, Seattle and Sacramento, which was her last stop before joining Channel 5.

This month, Monahan’s star rose a bit more, as Channel 5 promoted her from the 4:30 and 5 p.m. newscasts to the 6 and 10 p.m. broadcasts, which generally are considered a station’s plum assignments. She traded newscasts with Andy Avalos, who delivered reports on all four of those programs before Monahan was hired.

“Shelly was on my list for a number of years,” said Lyle Banks, the station’s general manager. “She’s a great communicator, she loves weather and she loves interacting with people. More important, we want her to use the new technologies that she is familiar with to provide the most accurate weather forecasts possible.”

Recently, Monahan discussed her unique status: In such an image-conscious profession, she insists on being a very visible spokeswoman for the prevention of sexual assault and child abuse. And she is extremely open about her own experiences.

The oldest of eight children raised on a farm outside Spokane, Monahan learned agrarian life by milking cows, raising calves, butchering chickens and, not surprisingly, monitoring the weather. In high school, she took journalism classes with an eye toward becoming a television meteorologist, her goal since the 4th grade.

After graduating from high school a year early, Monahan began attending college and delivering weather reports for a Spokane radio station. At 20, and after a year of marriage to her high-school sweetheart, Monahan was brutally attacked and raped one night while leaving the station.

Her face, repeatedly slammed into the ground, had gravel imbedded in it, and her nose was broken.

“He kept telling me he was going to kill me,” said Monahan, aghast at the thought her parents would have to identify her naked, beaten and dead body in a field. “With my face down in the dirt and my body so badly in physical pain, I had an out-of-body experience. And I wasn’t ready to die.”

Her ordeal – coupled with the fact that the town appeared to have a serial rapist – was heavily covered by Spokane’s news media, and her identity was not shielded. She turned the negative experience into a positive one.

“Once people got over their reactions to me as `Exhibit A, the rape victim,’ they were able to learn how to deal with rape victims,” she said. “And I was able to teach people how to be smart in avoiding attacks.”

Monahan soon began working with many prevention organizations, including the Child Abuse Prevention Council and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

In the aftermath of the crime, her marriage foundered. Her husband had trouble dealing with the attack’s aftermath, which included depression and suicidal feelings. The couple divorced.

Although Monahan soon caught on with a Spokane TV station as a weather reporter, the turmoil in her personal life continued. In 1986, just two months before she was to marry a mountain-climber who once had scaled Mt. Everest, he was killed in an avalanche while skiing in Canada.

“That experience was a big turning point in my life, because it was so difficult to be happy,” said Monahan. “But God never gives you more than you can handle.”

The seeds of her present life were sown shortly after that tragedy, when she met Michael Oddino, a television producer-director for the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team, Fox Sports and SportsChannel. He has been her husband for the past 11 years.

Monahan soon moved to stations in Sacramento, Seattle and, in 1992, back to Sacramento.

She left the security of that town, however, to come to Chicago, which appeals to her both personally and, with its four distinct seasons, professionally. While she plans to plunge head-first into community events, Monahan said she has no immediate goals other than delivering the best weather forecasts possible.

But if recent actions are any indication, Channel 5 management has big plans for her. A Sacramento newspaper reported her five-year contract is worth more than $2 million, and she already has begun co-anchoring the weekly “NBC-5 for Kids” children’s program with Brant Miller.

And Monahan’s newscast swap reportedly was not viewed as a demotion for Avalos.

“I don’t want to lose any of our personnel,” said Banks. “I want our team to stay together and grow and jell as a team. I think we have collectively the best personnel in the market, and it would be silly to break that up.”

No matter what happens, Monahan remains upbeat.

“I’m blessed with doing something I love, and I hope to take it as far as I can, for as long as I can,” she said.

Monday, December 29, 1997

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