We Love Weather Exclusive

Getting to Know Dr. Forbes

We recently sat down with our severe weather expert Dr. Forbes to discuss his 44 year career, favorite weather memories, advice and more!

What made you interested in studying tornadoes/got you interested in severe weather?
Originally I became interested in meteorology in the seventh grade. We had a teacher that taught weather as a module, and at that time, I knew I wanted to be a scientist, but wasn’t sure what kind.

As a seventh grader you learn about biology and chemistry. Biology, I figured, there were already so many people that had done things, and I wasn’t keen on dissecting icky frogs. In chemistry there had been so much study – you might go your whole lifetime and not discover some new formula. Then along came this teacher that showed weather forecasting was a science.

You could make a forecast based on actual data and find out the next day if you were right or wrong and learn from that. It was kind of like detective work and science combined, and I said, “Oh that’s for me.”

Besides, we lived out in the country, and if it was a sunny day, my mother would hang the clothes out on the clothesline to dry instead of using the dryer. So by making daily forecasts you can help people with their daily lives.I thought, “well this is pretty cool.”

Once I got to Penn State and started studying meteorology, I was taught and read about the work Dr. Fujita was doing at the University of Chicago on severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. So I thought, “well that’s pretty exciting. I want to learn how to become a severe weather forecaster and save lives.” After writing to Dr. Fujita, I was lucky enough that he was able to get some grant money that allowed me to have an assistantship while getting my master’s degree and PhD. I studied under Dr. Fujita for nearly 6 years while acquiring those degrees.

I originally intended to just get a master’s degree, and then go off to be a forecaster at what is now the Storm Prediction Center. I had heard it was hard to get a job there with only a bachelor’s degree, so I thought I’d get a master’s degree studying under Dr. Fujita about tornadoes – that’s a great way to get in.

Studying under Dr. Fujita was so exciting that when someone of that stature says you should stick around and get your PhD – you do that! At that time, I was educationally overqualified for the Storm Prediction Center, and headed off to academia where I wound up being a professor at Penn State for 21 years teaching other people to do severe weather forecasting – some of which wound up at the Storm Prediction Center.

What made you make the transition to television?
Well in the back of my mind, I still wanted to be a severe weather forecaster, but I just thought I was out of that possibility until The Weather Channel started expanding their expert team. They already had two hurricane experts and a winter weather expert. After there had been some tornado outbreaks, they decided they wanted to have a severe weather expert. So I was asked if I wanted to apply, and I was lucky enough to get the job. I started at The Weather Channel on June 1, 1999.

What is one weather memory that you will never forget?
Well I have a lot I will never forget. Two of them involve Super Outbreaks – 1974 and 2011.

I was a graduate student under Dr. Fujita during the 1974 Super Outbreak. It was getting late in the evening and Dr. Fujita was about to head home to eat dinner when he spoke to Allen Pearson, director of the Storm Prediction Center. Allen told him to be ready for damage surveys because it was getting to be a pretty bad outbreak.

But the irony in that was that Dr. Fujita had run out of research grant funding for me to continue studying tornadoes with him. Literally the day of the outbreak, I had an interview for a position to be an aircraft observer meteorologist on a project to study the formation of tropical storms off of Africa.

During the interview, a hailstorm with a rotating supercell thunderstorm came over our building at the University of Chicago, and one of the meteorologists came running in and said, “Sorry to interrupt but you might want to come out here and see this. There’s a wall cloud over the building.” The moment I’ll never forget is as Fujita was leaving the building that day, he said, “Well if you can sort of hold off on that job for a little bit, I think I’m going to get some new funding out of this tornado outbreak, so you will probably get to keep studying tornadoes after all.”

He went home to rest up, and his wife had actually collected some of the hailstones and put them in the fridge. Dr. Fujita told us that he had a cocktail “on the rocks” or “on the hailstones.”

And the other, certainly, is the Super Outbreak of 2011, and seeing the debris ball over Tuscaloosa, Ala., as the tornado touched down and started decimating into the community there and moving along its 80+ mile path. We had meteorologist Jeff Morrow on-air near Birmingham, and moments later he’s talking about shingles falling down from the sky there while the tornado is still 15+ miles away. It was the damage from Tuscaloosa that had been picked up into the storm and hurled forward and was coming down along the future path of the tornado, quite a few minutes ahead of time.

How many tornadoes have you seen in person? What were they like?
At least three. It’s exciting. Exhilarating. The three that I saw were all sort of different. The first one was a little, tiny gustnado-type tornado in The Netherlands in 1983. I was working as a visiting scientist at the Dutch Weather Service. It was a holiday, and I was in the kitchen by the window. All of a sudden, the window started rattling and there was a big green whirl outside, and I sort of thought to myself, “Gee if that’s a tornado I better get away from these windows.” So I ran to the other side of the house to look out of the other windows, but curiosity got the better of me and I ran back to the window where the tornado was. In the meantime, a tree had gotten knocked down but didn’t damage the building. I went up on the roof and could sort of see a little bit of a funnel near the cloud base, mostly a whirling, weak, gustnado heading northeast, and I did a damage survey on my bicycle.

Then, May 2010, Mike Bettes and I were out storm tracking for The Weather Channel during a Vortex 2 research day. We were following along with one of the Doppler radars in the area near Oklahoma City. There were tornado warnings, and we could see big hook echoes on radar, but we were trying to find an open space where we could look at the part of the hook echo. Then, we finally came to this opening and, wow, there’s a big wedge tornado that’s sitting over there. We jumped out of the van and the cameraman set up the camera as fast as he could, and we started to broadcast live. Within a minute or so it had gotten rain-wrapped, and we were getting rained on – we couldn’t see the tornado anymore. It was an EF3 tornado that was maybe two miles at most away, but it was still pretty big even from our vantage point.

In 2013, a couple days before the Moore, Okla., tornado, we were up in Kansas and several tornadoes formed on a gust front. One of them was all roped out horizontal. It was on the ground 300 yards away from us off to our east, but the funnel was right over top of us. You could hear the whirring, it sounded like a waterfall, so that was pretty exciting. And then all of a sudden, another tornado formed just down to our south along that gust front, and it went scooting down and broke a big branch off a tree. So there were one or two that day, little landspout tornadoes.

Were you scared at all?
No, I was pretty sure that we were safe. There was a real strong cold, windy gust front, so I knew we were in stable air right where we were, but a few hundred yards beyond us – where the edge of the gust front was – at the edge of the interface, another tornado spun up, so it was exciting more than scary. We were scared on the 2010 day, not so much by the tornado, but that we were driving around sort of blind. We knew there was probably a tornado there, but it was hard to see because of the trees. The first spot we got out and it was boom boom boom, lightning bolts coming down, so we were a little more scared of that. We decided not to stay there. We couldn’t really see from that long of a distance. We were more likely to die from a lightning bolt than a tornado.

What advice would you give to someone who is in an area forecasted for severe weather? Someone in the direct path?
Well, you hope that people have positioned themselves in a sturdy building. The danger is if they are in a mobile home or a vehicle or some outdoor setting, you worry about that. But if they are in a sturdy building, you tell them to hunker down in a safe position in the lowest, innermost portion of that building. And if you have time, then you expand on that and tell them to go to the basement and get under some heavy object: a workbench, a table or stairs.

Some safety measures we talk about ahead of time are putting on a helmet or something to protect your head in your safe shelter, because most fatalities come from head injuries. Also, if you are running around barefoot, put shoes on. In case your house is damaged, there will be a lot of rubble with broken glass, sticks, nails and sharp objects. You don’t want to suddenly have injuries because you’ve had to walk around barefoot in the debris.

If you’re caught in a vehicle, you have to make a quick decision whether you’re going to stop the vehicle and get out, if there’s a ditch nearby, or stay in the vehicle. If you’re going to pull over and hunker down, get down low in the vehicle and let the body of the vehicle, the airbags and things like that, give you some protection.

What are safety precautions when there is lightning?
There is a higher risk of getting hit and killed by lightning in your lifetime than from a tornado, by virtue of the fact that there are a lot more thunderstorms than tornadoes each year. I try telling people many, many times per year that when thunder roars, go indoors. However, even that could be too late. I try to say not to wait for the first thunder because sometimes the deadliest bolt winds up being the first lightning strike that comes down while people have been waiting for the thunder instead of seeking shelter.

If it’s a day where thunderstorms are predicted and you see the sky is dark, that is the time to be heading indoors. Or if you can’t go indoors, go into a vehicle with a metal body or roof.

So do go under metal? I would think distinctively to stay away from metal.
Definitely in the case of a metal vehicle, but not something like a metal storage shed that isn’t grounded.. As long as you’re not touching metal parts of the vehicle. The metal body serves as an electric “Farraday” cage that is the conducting object. The air is not a very good conductor.

So if a lightning bolt hits the vehicle, electricity quickly travels through the metal and doesn’t normally go back into the air. It goes around the body of the vehicle, down in the axles and sometimes in the process it blows out the tires as it goes down in the ground. You don’t want to be touching the radio or the steering wheel. Though staying inside the vehicle probably isn’t 100% safe, it’s pretty close.

Same with the inside of a house. Normally, the lightning will go through a house, maybe through the plumbing or wiring, so you do not want to be touching anything inside the house like a corded telephone, washing the dishes or taking a shower, where you could be in contact with electrical current from the lightning. There have been instances of people doing the dishes or even under a chandelier when the lightning has come down and part of the charge is arced over to them.

Are there any severe weather myths that you hate or always correct?
I think it is largely gone away now, but back probably around 1970 there was a safety rule that said when a tornado was approaching to open the windows. There had been a myth that building would explode during a tornado because tornadoes have low pressure inside them, and the house, if you had the windows closed, would have higher pressure. Then when the tornado would come over the building you would have sort of like a balloon expanding and it would blow up.

If the tornado is strong enough that it has low enough pressure to make the house explode, it’s going to have strong enough winds that it will break the windows or take off the roof, so you don’t want to be spending precious seconds opening windows. You want to be spending those seconds going to the basement or your safe place. Besides houses have chimneys, air vents etc. that are easily able to let the pressure equalize even if pressure is what would be doing the damage. It’s the wind, not the pressure, that damages buildings.

Another one was perpetuated by a video from 1992 where some TV folks were out chasing a storm in Kansas. When they saw a tornado coming, they jumped out of the vehicle and ran under an overpass yelling, “Get under the girders,” which is definitely the wrong thing to do in that situation. They should’ve gotten into a ditch, not gotten out of the car to go up under an overpass where there’s nothing to grab on to. If the tornado is coming at them, those embankments are going to constrict the airflow, so if anything, the air is going to squirt faster in that area. Also, every foot you rise above ground allows less friction and causes the wind to increase quite a bit as you go up, so you’re going up into faster winds in a constricted area. That’s why we try to tell people not to get under overpasses and stay as low as possible.

What is the most rewarding part about being a tornado and severe weather expert?
I got into the business because I wanted to save lives. Back in 2002, LaPlata Maryland got hit by an F4 tornado. I had a person from LaPlata mail me and say that they had been watching my broadcast that day. Before the tornado had formed, I told viewers that I thought it was going to form, and I was pretty worried about it. They said that the concern in my voice prompted them to take shelter. So there are some moments where you feel like what you’re doing can save some lives.


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52 Comments


  1. Dear, Dr. Greg Forbes
    My name is Austin Baranowski from Wausau West High School in Wausau, Wisconsin also I like to ask you to questions about how weather is related to weathering and erosion.
    here are the questions I will ask you
    ——————————————–
    Q.1 How do tornadoes cause erosion?
    Q.2 How do hailstorms cause abrasion?

    I know what you are thinking is that I like to talk about tornadoes because it makes me feel better.
    Thank You,
    Austin Baranowski
    PS.
    Thank you for letting me right this email to you also my email is 19aubaranowski@wausauschools.org
    Also can you please email me ASAP it’s for a science project.

  2. Enjoy your discussions and narratives on happening storm events. Has the feeling of being in an upper level college classroom again…You are truly an expert

  3. any comment on my geo engineering “techno fix”?
    involves dictating the movement of hurricanes eye wall to send long wave radiation into space and provide water for drinking and agriculture to feed 20 billion as well as draining clouds
    it’s 2 of 5 structures needed to do the job of ending global warming done right as i stated back in 2003, get the rest when agreed to do it in full to end starvation forever
    just re did the text explanation
    http://climatesolution.weebly.com/

  4. I was wondering, why it seems that the Northern Panhandle of WV always seems to miss the majority of the Severe Weather, as opposed to the Southern parts of the state where the mass flooding occurred?

  5. I was caught in what was very clear to me as being a tornado in Albany ga back in 2015 off of Gillianville Rd. I was no more than 100 yards away from all of the rotating debris that crossed the road right in front of me. My point is that the next day I looked at the reports and they only stated that it was strong wind gusts. I surveyed the damage after everything cleared in the direction it came from. There is a very clear path that it took. Sorry I don’t have an exact date of when this happened but I would really like to know why this was not classified as an EF0 or weak EF1?

  6. I have loved weather ever since I was 5. I love your work doctor Greg Forbes. My mom does too. I am only in 6th grade, but I enjoy watching the weather channel. I want to be a meteorologist when I grow up.

  7. He truly is the one I always turn the channel on louder and prepare – living in FL and getting back to WV- the moment Greg Forbes shows up – Totally always got me to contact everyone to turn it on and watch the truth of the Weather Channel from Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Severe Storms, and get prepared for them!!! Thank GOD!

  8. Dr Forbes is so great. I love watching and listening to him on tv. I think there should be a book written with top quotes from Dr Forbes. For example, “Reds goin west bound, Greens Goin east bound”. I can never get that one out of my head.

  9. When reporting tropical storms that sometimes graduate to hurricane status why do meteorologists use millibars instead of inches of mercury for barometric pressure?

  10. Dear Dr. Forbes, You are definitely one of my favs when it comes to predicting severe weather, especially since I’ve always been afraid of tornadoes. We don’t have a safe room or even a garage to get to in case of those predictions. I live in a mother-in-law suite that is attached to the main house. It is 1/2 concrete to the roof (kitchen) and the rest is made of lumber. I would probably stay in my kitchen since I live in the Dixie Tornado Alley. Don’t know if that would help me but at least there are no windows there. Keep up the good work!

  11. i have a serious question at the spc and the weather channle they are talking about a derecho what is that

    1. could be the fact that there are a lot of buildings there. I think its called the albedo affect or something like that.

  12. I feel bad for the people that are impacted by the event but during tornado outbreaks I can sit and watch the coverage for hours and hours no matter where it’s at. It’s entertainment. I have studied meteorology on my own little by little since 1983

  13. Hey Greg,
    Let me jog your memory…Back in 1985 I was running the Skywarn net in Portage Country of Ohio…On May 30th of that year was an outbreak of tornadoes in Ohio and Pennsylvania…Later on I read reports from the Pittsburgh NWS off and one of the forecasters noted that he contacted a Greg Forbes while this was occurring…Was that you?

  14. I lived in Southern Maryland during the La Plata tornado. I had my weather radio on (severe weather), and they came on and said the town of La Plata had been destroyed. I also remember seeing an aerial view of the tornado path. The damage was unreal. I remember taking some supplies to the officers in La Plata the next day, There was a gas station sign in the divider of the 4 lane highway. Traffic was stopped coming northbound on 301 except for emergency vehicles. They did however rebuild La Plata in record time.

  15. All my years watching TWC I never heard what to do in a hail storm? Do you keep driving if your in a car? Should you drive under a tree? Someone should say what’s best!

    1. Scott, I have seen on TWC what to do in a hail storm. 1st find a shelter if you can. If not, pull over facing the storm, as the windshield is made of stronger glass than the back window. Stay away from trees, branches may fall from hail or strong winds. Thanks TWC for the info!

  16. Dr. Greg Forbes is awesome and will help your day I remember I was in Medina and there was a big storm coming and I remember seeing Dr. Greg Forbes on TV letting people aware of storms and he’s the reason I 💖 weather

  17. Dr. Forbes, I remember the Xenia, OH tornado in the 1974 super outbreak. We didn’t live in the town but we had tornado watches out in our area as well. Fascinating storms, tornadoes. Thank you for all the dedication and expertise you bring to us!

  18. I began watching the TWC Last year in 2015 when my family had gotten Direct TV and I always liked watching Tornado Alley and I survived a Tornado and I get to see what happens to towns and what happens to people.

  19. I began watching TWC at a young age, shortly aftet beggining the 4th grade. In the 3rd grade, my school went under a Tornado Warning, and it was a very traumatic event. Nobody knew where to go, and we sat there for three hours, panic present throughout the hallways. I was so traumatized that even days before the severe weather would be near my home i would gather all my plush animals on my bed, cover up, get this feeling of anxiety and i would just sit there. On the day of, i wouldnt turn off my tv and i would sweat all day. until the seventh grade, i would always ask to go home whenever my school was put under a tornado watch. i would have panic attacks. but then i realized that Dr.Forbes knew what he was doing, and it made me feel safe.

  20. Dr. Greg Forbes is the Dr. Ted Fujita of today, continuing his legacy and being a part of the research team that revised the Fujita Scale to the Enhanced Fuita Scale is a big step along with the Tornado Conditions Index. I have Autism and the great thing is it makes me different than everyone else but it doesn’t help with college. To me Dr. Forbes has taught me more about severe weather and especially tornadoes than any college textbook that has been published. I look at maps and data to see where the big risk area is, I look to see who is in it, and factor in trends because some areas have been notorious to get hit twice or at least close by. I’ll be busy tomorrow watching him, and having access to Wunderground and Tornado HQ radar I’ll be looking into those storms. I think he would find it very impressive that I can track severe weather using radar that is on a lesser degree on my laptop and watching him. I’ve always kept a lookout for my friends when the weather gets severe, even warned them of a possible tornado near their college campus, sure enough a tornado actually caused damage outside their dorm housing complex.

    1. Keep up the great work Dr. Forbes! I can tell you find your line of work fulfilling. I had always wanted to change my major to meteorology, but the physics class scared me off. Now I have that one regret.
      Anyway, as a viewer who loves weather, I truly appreciate all your teaching moments as well as your forecasting and warning. You and Mike Bettes work well together and hope that you will go out with him on the next Vortex trip, when you able.

    2. I wonder if Dr Ted would be unabashed about linking decreasing summer tornadoes to a warming climate. I don’t know that Dr. Greg is on the record.

  21. I want so bad to study sever weather and tornadoes but I’m not sure if I have what it takes. I love watching you on tv though whenever my area has the need for it. You always give so much I information.