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Weatherman Back In His Own Backyard

From killer tornadoes in the midwest to Florida wildfires, this hometown son of Mount Vernon has weathered many storms.

Standing on the boardwalk in front of the Alexandria Torpedo Factory Art Center last Thursday morning, doing the weather segment for ABC's Good Morning America, Tony Perkins did his forecast every 30 minutes moving from inside the Art Center to the dock area.

Following his introduction of several artists, Perkins pointed at the camera to give his signature "And here's what's happening in your neighborhood." At that moment he discovered his finger was covered with wet clay from touching a vase being fashioned by one of crafts people. No matter, he just chuckled at himself and did his thing.

A 1977 graduate of Mount Vernon High School, Perkins came to the Washington area when he was five from his native New York City. "My father, who was also in broadcasting, took a job here," Perkins said.

"At first we lived in the District but soon moved to the Alexandria area near Mount Vernon High School. The Torpedo Factory was one of my favorite spots to visit," he said.

"It's amazing what they have accomplished with it. The variety of art is spectacular," Perkins said. He shared that enthusiasm with his national audience as he educated them to the former munitions factory's evolution and introduced them to various local artists and personalities.

Even though he now works out of the ABC studio in Manhattan and has an apartment in New York City, Perkins and his wife Rhonda, a native of Burke, maintain a home in Northern Virginia. She is with Community Family Services in DC.

"ALTHOUGH OUR HOME is in western Fairfax County, I prefer to fly in and out of National rather than Dulles," Perkins said. "It's so great to look down as all the magnificent buildings and landscape -- particularly at this time of year with the cherry blossoms."

It was those cherry blossom that brought Perkins back to his old stomping grounds this time. He served as the Grand Marshal of the 2002 parade on Saturday.

Prior to joining Good Morning America, Perkins was the co-anchor of the Fox Morning News at WTTG-TV in Washington. In that role, in addition to presenting the weather, he also conducted interviews, did feature segments, and reviewed movies.

"One of the real joys of my present job is that it affords me the opportunity to do the unusual. We travel a lot and do the show from a wide variety of locations," he said.

That "unusual," of which he so fond, includes some of nature's most violent outbursts. Perkins has reported from the scenes of the Oklahoma City F-5 tornado, the Florida wildfires, Hurricanes Floyd and Dennis, and the parched lands of drought-stricken Georgia.

"I'm often reporting as people are returning to what's left of their homes. In Oklahoma City only the foundations remained. It gets gut wrenching," he said.

Perkins' producer, Gary Stein, attested to Tony's venturesome spirit. "I can remember once in a hurricane situation, Tony kept pushing to get more footage. He told me we were not near the eye of the storm yet. It was close enough for me," Stein said. "We joke a lot during the show. It helps to relieve the tension for the whole crew."

THAT TENSION WAS particularly high for Perkins on Sept. 11. He was in New York City at the studio that morning but his wife was on a business trip — in a plane.

"I love doing the weather. It's a lot of fun working in the studio in New York with Charlie [Gibson] and Diane [Sawyer]. It's a great studio and I have a chance to spotlight a lot of people," Perkins said.

That was evident at the Art Center as he did his best to interact with as many fans and artists as possible. He autographed their posters and mingled easily with the hometown crowd during breaks.