Today marks the start of Talking About Weather With and Talking About Climate With, a pair of regular features that will appear once a week or so on talkingabouttheweather.com. The inaugural subject is a giant in American forecasting, AccuWeather’s Elliot Abrams. In addition to his meteorological skills, Abrams is a talented and frequently hilarious writer.
Elliot Abrams earned a B.S. and an M.S. in Meteorology from Penn State University. He is a graduate of the United States Air Force Officer Training School. He joined AccuWeather in 1967, and was a co-founder of AccuWeather’s radio service in 1971. He is now a Senior Vice–President and Chief Forecaster for AccuWeather. He is one of only two people to have earned the accredited status of Certified Consulting Meteorologist and the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Seal of Approval for both radio and television.
Just as background: Abrams kindly acknowledges that talkingabouttheweather.com is based in Rhode Island.
TATW: What is the polar vortex?
Elliot Abrams: A polar vortex can be found on maps of the wind flow aloft (such as 3-6 miles overhead) almost every day of the year. In summer, it is relatively weak and far north. In winter, it often quite large. Sometimes it will consist of a central core surrounded by lobes that can greatly range in size. When one of these lobes is oriented such that the flow comes from the northwest Canada to the Great Lakes or Northeast states, it can be extremely cold. At other times, a major lobe can extend from northern Canada to the western states. In that case it can be very cold in the West, but the flow exiting from the eastern side of this lobe or extension is often a southwest flow that brings warmth to the Northeast.
So, saying the polar vortex is responsible for cold weather packs as much information as saying we have social problems because of people. The shape, size and orientation of sections of the polar vortex help to determine how warm or cold it will be as well as how wet or dry it is. In the same way, we need more details to analyze what causes various social problems.
TATW: Will you be doing on-camera work when Accuweather starts its television channel later this year?
Elliot Abrams: I may do some, but my great face for radio means we will have others playing the major roles. I may prepare some explanatory or historic reports that are used when relevant to the weather situation at hand or expected, I do prepare a daily video which is shown in the daily blog I write for AccuWeather.com On the first page of the site, there is a section called “News” available at the top. The blog section is accessed from a drop down menu under News. In early spring, I will offer my 2000th blog, continuation of blog offerings dating back to 2006.
TATW: Will the channel be produced in the same location where Accuweather now finds itself, in State College?
Elliot Abrams: The channel should originate at our headquarters in State College. All of my radio broadcasts have originated in our main facility (there is another operational center in Wichita, Kansas and sales offices around the country). People sometimes ask how I can tall what the weather is doing in Providence, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Buffalo and other cities where my forecasts are heard. With satellite pictures, radar, surface weather reports, webcams and other sources we can get a good picture of what is happening. TV meteorologist use the same kinds of methods to assess what is happening various parts of the viewing area. Meteorologist Gary Ley [a well-known Rhode Island meteorologist], who shared an office with me in grad school at Penn State, as well as your favorite TV weather person (whoever that may be) uses similar technology. In all my forecasting efforts, I try to mentally place myself in the area I am forecasting for. It really helps me to focus on how the weather may affect people listening to me.
TATW: What is your favorite weather?
Elliot Abrams: I like fluffy snow because our dog Sam is an American Eskimo dog and loves to run and glide through it. He is 15 years old, and doesn’t get around like he used to … but he still tries to run through freshly fallen snow.
My very favorite weather is a warm and humid early evening at Hilton head, SC, where my wife and I go each June. It’s even better when the grandchildren are there. It is especially enjoyable to hear the constant wave action of the ocean as lightning flickers far offshore.
I should have answered “any weather in Rhode Island.” On my various visits to the area, including those to visit WPRO, the weather has been picturesque. I fondly remember visits when I saw the late Salty Brine, one of the finest people I have ever known. My wife still recalls when he would call early in the morning on her birthday to give birthday greetings. She remembers close calls on uttering less than happy remarks upon first being awakened, until she realized it was Salty! For a time, I had the honor of talking to three people during the same hour each morning whose total on-air careers had spanned 130 years. Bob Steele in Hartford had 50 under his belt around the same time that Salty reached the 50 year milestone, and Dave Maynard in Boston had 30 years. Sorry for rambling off-topic!
TATW: What is the most amazing weather you have witnessed with your own eyes?
Elliot Abrams: Last June, at Hilton Head, I was on a 2-hour kayak adventure with my wife, our oldest son, his wife and two kids, when I noticed waterspouts descending from the sky several miles away at the ocean’s edge (we were on the calm waters of a sound at the time). I have a photograph showing 4 separate waterspouts.
Hurricane Hugo hit the South Carolina coast in September, 1989. When the weakened storm reached Pennsylvania a day or two later, we were at a high school soccer game where our older son was playing. It was windy and rainy, but we were not uncomfortable because the storm had brought along enough tropical air to keep temperatures that evening well up in the 70s. The teams were battling at one end of the field when out of the corner of my eye I saw the metal goal at the other end blow over! They stopped play, and I thought about how fortunate it was that the goalie near the blown-over goal avoided getting hit.
Another startling event occurred when I was golfing with a friend at Myrtle Beach, SC. It was a dull and drippy dark, dim and dismal July morning around 8 am. I always worry about lightning when I play golf. Groups on the course are reluctant to leave “just because of the threat of lightning” because they don’t want to lose their place on the course. I thought thunderstorms were likely that morning, but had seen no lightning and heard no thunder. Suddenly, about 50 years ahead of us, a hot and jagged spark of lightning hit a small tree. The deafening thunder answered milliseconds later. We quickly headed for the nearest shelter. Today, if I think lightning is possible, I leave the course. I am too nervous to play then anyway and am grateful that members of my foursome will usually follow me to a shelter as soon as I say the word.