Since it’s officially Hurricane Week at The Weather Channel, we decided to talk with some experts: Michael Lowry, Carl Parker, and Greg Postel. These meteorologists are all Hurricane Specialists and are highly knowledgeable when it comes to hurricanes. We sat down with them and asked about their past with hurricanes, why they have such a strong interest in them and much more.
How long have you all been covering tropical weather?
Lowry: I’ve been doing hurricane forecasting for probably over a decade.
Parker: I’ve been a broadcast meteorologist for 25 years, but I really started covering tropical cyclones in 1995 when I took a position with KPRC-TV in Houston. We had several tropical storms that swamped southeast Texas, and I also covered the landfalls of hurricanes Opal and Georges in the field. It’s important I think to have been in the heart of hurricanes, to really understand the overwhelming size and duration of these storms, and what it feels like to be to some extent at their mercy.
Postel: Here at the The Weather Channel I’ve been covering tropical weather for about 4 years- since August 2012. My initiation was Sandy. Without much national experience, to be immediately be thrusted into a story that needed a lot of expertise, it was definitely trying times.
Why did you choose to specialize in hurricanes?
Lowry: I grew up in New Orleans, and I was always generally interested in the weather. It was when Hurricane Andrew came along in ‘92 that I became fixated on hurricanes.
Parker: I’ve always been fascinated by tropical cyclones, since all the way back to 1979, when the remnants of Hurricane David came through the D.C. metro area, which is where I grew up. I was vividly aware of how unique the atmosphere was that day, from the windy warmth to the unusual clouds. When I got older I made a point of chasing tropical cyclones, and in 1999 I intercepted the eyewall of Hurricane Bret, in deep south Texas. Bret had been a category four just hours before making landfall, and it is a profound and humbling experience to be in the presence of that kind of power.
Postel: My fascination with hurricanes and tropical weather began during the early years of my interest in weather. I grew up on east coast, and we had close encounters with hurricanes occasionally. I remember being really excited about a couple them, like Hurricane Belle in 1976 which came close to where I lived.
What is the most fascinating characteristic about hurricanes to you?
Lowry: I think the scale and the impact of a hurricane is what makes a hurricane so unique. No other weather phenomenon can impact the coast and the nation like a hurricane can. Even the worst tornado isn’t going to shut down a major metropolitan city for weeks or months.
Parker: What’s fascinating to me is the seemingly limitless power of hurricanes. When I chased Hurricane Bret I felt that I had, for the first time, some inkling of comparisons between hurricanes and the energy of tens of thousands of bombs. When you think about a severe thunderstorm, often the very worst of it will last for a matter of seconds. In a hurricane like Bret, you take those few seconds of wind and keep it going for hours and hours, with occasional bursts that are so strong they take your breath away. It’s an awesome display of nature at it’s most intense, to be as feared as it is admired.
Postel: To me it’s the wind. I recognize it’s not the most deathly part of a hurricane, but I’ve chased hurricanes since I could drive. I’ve been in Andrew, Katrina, Opal, and every time the same attraction to them has been the wind.
What’s the most unique storm you’ve ever covered?
Lowry: I’d say Sandy in 2012. The challenge of a hurricane is more than just making a good forecast. It’s communicating the hazards and the impacts. Since I’ve started working here, I’ve come to the conclusion that tornadoes are the most difficult to cover and winter weather is hardest to forecast, but hurricanes are the most difficult to communicate. They can include almost anything- tornados, flooding, storm surge, rip currents, rainfall, high winds. Hurricanes are sort of all encompassing, it’s not one single thing.
Parker: Hurricane Sandy was like no other storm I’ve covered. It started as a hurricane, but then morphed into a giant beast that was drawing energy in classic tropical cyclone fashion, from warm, tropical air but also feeding off a powerful low aloft and large-scale ascent, in non-tropical fashion. The result was an enormous circulation that seemed to fill the western Atlantic, with a wind field that would eventually extend across the eastern third of the United States. It even brought a blizzard to the Appalachians. All of this occurred after a bizarre late-season left turn, which had not happened in the record, and which may have been related to an atmospheric block caused by melting ice at high-latitudes. On several counts Sandy was a storm unlike any other.
Postel: Katrina. I almost was overtaken by the storm surge. I was in the gulf coast of Mississippi, and everyone in the group I was with thought we were in a safe spot but we were overtaken by it. It was a difficult situation to try to do anything about it because the winds were over 100 mph. Fortunately, we were able to get out of there, and it made me rethink future storm chasing strategies. One minute you’d see the gulf outside of the window, and the next it was lapping up your car door. It was insane and very scary.
Besides hurricanes and tropical storms, what’s your favorite weather phenomenon?
Lowry: Actually I would say if there was one weather event that sparked my interest in weather it was winter weather. I still say to this day that a big snow event is one of the coolest things.
Parker: Severe storms are my other passion. In this arena we also see tremendous power, along with magnificent architecture in the skies, and otherworldly color and contrast. Since I was a child I’ve been in awe of thunderstorms, and to this day I love to watch them. We also know that they can be terrifying, and our interest in severe storms and their mechanics enables us to add value for our viewers.
Postel: I’m a big fan of thunderstorms and the anticipation of them. Like when it’s a late summer afternoon, it’s hot and humid, and you hear the thunder rolling in the distance. I like the anticipation of changing weather like thunderstorms. I also really like a good blizzard, but I don’t like living them. If you can transport me to cover a big blizzard then take me to Miami – I’m good.
What advice would you give to an aspiring meteorologist who has a passion for hurricanes?
Lowry: How we communicate the impacts of weather events are so important, and it’s not necessarily something you’re taught in school. So I think having a bigger picture of weather and how it impacts everything is important. I think too for a young “met” going into the field, developing a skillset in computer programming is important, and it’s something that’s often overlooked. Having that skill will make your job immensely easier. Weather is all big data, and you have to know how to take it and boil it down to something usable. You have to know physics and math as well- everyday someone is asking me questions where I have to crunch a lot of data.
Parker: Any student who is interested in meteorology would do well to consume as much information about the subject as possible, and to have great interest many disciplines, including science and math, as well as English and communications.
Postel: Find out what it is about hurricanes that makes them so interesting to you and own it. Narrow all of the interests you have in hurricanes down and take that most interesting factor, run with it, become an expert and be better than anybody else. The fact that you eventually have to focus or have a specialty catches a lot of people off guard.
Between Postel, Lowry, and Parker:
A. Who has experienced the most hurricanes or tropical storms in person?
Lowry: Oh I’d say it’s Postel- he’s a chaser. Carl has covered lot, and I know he was in Bret in ‘99 and Georges in ‘98, but Postel has gone out on his own to chase hurricanes.
Parker: I’ve been in three hurricanes, Opal, Georges, and Bret, and countless tropical storms.
Postel: Me. I’d say I’ve experienced 15-20 hurricanes in person.
B. Who is most likely to geek out over a hurricane?
Lowry: We all geek out when there’s a hurricane in different ways. I geek out over Hurricane Hunters because they’re sending back all this data from inside the hurricane.
Parker: I think we all geek out pretty thoroughly. When we run into amazing hurricane hunter video or satellite imagery, we all gather ’round for a collective wow.
Postel: I’d say we all geek out in different ways too. We all look at hurricanes with different perspectives. That’s a strength of The Weather Channel. I like to look at the internal structure and dynamics of a hurricane.
C. Who has the longest history with hurricanes?
Lowry: They’ve been alive longer than I have, but Greg and Carl are probably pretty equal.
Postel: Academically me, but Carl and I are about the same age so we’ve had an equal history with them.
Is there anything you or the other two Hurricane Specialists are known for at The Weather Channel?
Lowry: Postel has a quirky personality, but it’s endearing and it’s a good thing. Carl loves Rush the band- like LOVES Rush. He’s been to an absurd number of concerts. He’s also really interested in climate and climate angles on weather stories- that really sets him apart. He’s very skilled with communicating climate in a way that’s very understandable to people. It’s a skillset that nobody at The Weather Channel has as strongly as he does.
Parker: Michael and Greg are two of the most talented atmospheric scientists I’ve ever known, and I’ve always enjoyed bouncing ideas off of them. And because of his emergency management experience, Michael brings important social science perspective to our team. Away from work, my primary hobby is music. I’ve been a drummer since I was a kid, played in a few bands over the years, and more recently I’ve taken up guitar. And I love live music!
Postel: I’m goofy for sure. I’m always chatting away and acting silly. Carl and I share a serious interest in music – we’ve jammed together. We’re both percussionists. Lowry and I both love water and hot weather. So when winter comes around, he and I always dream about the next 80 degree day and when it’s going to get here.