This is the fourth and final part of “The Surfer Dude and Stormmaster G,” an excerpt from Inside The Weather Channel. Next week I’ll begin a series taking you behind the scenes of “Your Weather Today,” the Weather Channel’s popular morning show, as it was in late 2008 with Marshall Seese and Heather Tesch.
THE SURFER DUDE AND STORMMASTER G
Two of the Best Reasons to Watch The Weather Channel–Part IV
The Weather Channel’s severe weather expert, Greg Forbes, like the network’s hurricane expert, Steve Lyons, sees his first duty to the public as opposed to The Weather Channel. The channel, however, plays an extremely important role in what both he and Steve do. It’s the vehicle for getting their warnings disseminated. For saving lives.
Greg, known around the office as “StormMaster G,” joined The Weather Channel in 1999 after spending 21 years on the faculty at Pennsylvania State University. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Meteorology at Penn State before venturing away from Keystone country to the University of Chicago. There he studied under Dr. T. Theodore Fujita, perhaps the most recognizable name in the field of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
Dr. Fujita, along with Allen Pearson, developed the now widely-used zero through five scale of tornado intensity. It’s since been refined and is now known as the Enhanced Fujita Scale. These are the EF ratings assigned to tornadoes.
Greg was awarded his Master’s and Doctorate from the University of Chicago. He returned to Penn State in 1978 to begin his teaching and research career at the university. Since then, his work has taken him across much of the world. He’s dogsledded under the Northern Lights in Sweden and worked with the national weather services of South Africa, Spain and the Netherlands. (In the Netherlands, ironically, he watched a small tornado churn through his backyard.) He’s also the only member of the prestigious National Academy of Science’s Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate who’s a broadcast meteorologist.
A couple of things you might not know about Greg: he was first chair clarinet in his high school band–apparently no threat to Benny Goodman; and he used to drive muscle cars, Pontiac Firebirds. (You should have hung onto them, Greg, now that they’ve gone the way of Packards and Studebakers.)
Greg is a tireless worker. I never put a clock on him, but it seemed to me he spent as much time at The Weather Channel as he did at home. He doggedly turned out five-day outlooks for severe thunderstorm activity across the country. But because of the inherent uncertainty in severe weather crystal-balling, The Weather Channel did not–and does not–specifically depict such threats beyond two days into the future. On-camera meteorologists, however, may verbally mention the risks.
Bespectacled, balding and slight of build, Greg looks the part of a college professor. He’s rather reserved, but possesses a fine sense of humor. And he’ll engage you in spirited conversations about his passions: severe weather and Pennsylvania sports teams. He’s an especially big fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers (football) whose training camp is in his hometown of Latrobe, the Pittsburgh Penguins (hockey) and of course the Penn State football team. Greg has a football autographed by the Nitanny Lions’ venerable coach, Joe Paterno.
On the morning of February 1, 2009, I couldn’t resist testing Greg’s sense of humor. In a telephone call to him, I tried to play up the low-end threat of severe thunderstorms in eastern Texas later in the day, suggesting he might be needed on the air. Of course, I was well aware that nothing short of a swarm of EF-5 tornadoes would get Greg into the office that particular Sunday. His beloved Steelers were playing in Super Bowl XLIII, and odds were he’d already barricaded himself in his house with chips, dips and beverages. But I just had to rattle his cage.
Naturally, he didn’t take the bait. His knowledge of violent thunderstorms and tornadoes rivals Steve’s encyclopedic understanding of tropical storms and hurricanes, and he knew from the get-go I was jerking him around. It turned out to be a good day for Greg. The Steelers won the Super Bowl and only a handful of hail-producing storms popped up in eastern Texas. There was one report of a possible brief tornado. No damage occurred.
Greg’s biggest fear regarding tornadoes is that one will someday strike a major sporting event with little warning, giving people no time to find shelter. A great many baseball games, automobile and horse races, NCAA basketball tournaments (March Madness) and even some football games are held during seasons when twisters prowl the landscape. Atlanta experienced a close call in March 2008 when an EF-2 twister slashed through the downtown area on a Friday night as a Southeastern Conference basketball tournament game was in progress at the Georgia Dome. The dome was only slightly damaged and no one inside was hurt, but there was one fatality on the streets of the city.
Greg points out that weather-related events don’t cause nearly as many deaths as traffic accidents, so you needn’t live in constant fear of nature’s wrath. But you can certainly improve your odds of survival should you ever find yourself in the crosshairs of a severe storm by remembering a few simple rules. Stay indoors or in a hard-topped motor vehicle during thunderstorms. Don’t drive on flooded roadways. If a tornado or damaging windstorm is imminent, seek shelter in the lowest, innermost portion of a sturdy home (not a mobile home) or building.
And, of course, pay close attention to whatever StormMaster G is saying on The Weather Channel. He’s the Magic Man when it comes to issuing heads-up for severe weather.
Photo: Beaver Stadium, Pennsylvania State University
Greg Forbes, The Weather Channel’s severe weather expert is a Penn State grad and former professor. He has a football autographed by the Nittany Lions’ venerable football coach, Joe Paterno.