Shortly upon deciding to leave The Weather Channel as its on-air Hurricane Specialist and Storm Surge Expert at the end of 2016, I received a phone call from Bill Pohovey, the long-time vice president and news director at WPLG – Miami’s local ABC affiliate. Having been a one-time resident of Miami, I knew the station letters well. I also knew its team of meteorologists, including Chief Certified Meteorologist Betty Davis, also a Weather Channel alum, and its resident Hurricane Specialist Max Mayfield, a colleague, friend, and former National Hurricane Center Director. I don’t remember the details of our conversation – it was brief – though I do remember the impression it left. This local station knew its niche – hurricanes – and it had a plan to not only cover them best, but to cover them better than the rest. The timing for me, though, didn’t quite fit.
I hadn’t a second thought stepping away from television six years ago. That doesn’t mean it was easy, of course. I’d formed strong bonds and lifelong friendships with both on- and off-air colleagues at The Weather Channel (TWC). They were and are some of the best and hardworking meteorologists out there. Leaving the Channel was a mix of professional and personal motivations. My fiancée – Kait Parker, a fellow meteorologist and one-time TWC co-worker – and I sought a less hectic lifestyle and lower public profiles to start a new marriage and family (We recently celebrated five years of marriage and are blessed with a beautiful little girl). More importantly, the hurricanes I’d covered on-air reminded me of the work still left to be done both in improving hurricane forecasts and how we respond to such disasters.
My first order of business was to team up once again with my former colleagues at the National Hurricane Center through a collaborative partnership with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), one of the largest weather and climate related research institutions in the world. This enabled me to work on a number of special research-to-operations projects with the smart folks at the Hurricane Center, all with the aim of getting more refined hurricane forecasts out to the public.
I then turned to the federal planning of hurricane disasters, a topic I was not only familiar with from my time with the Florida Division of Emergency Management during the busy 2004 and 2005 seasons, but something I’d written about and discussed during my time on The Weather Channel. I was brought aboard the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as a strategic planner and senior emergency management specialist responsible for disaster response planning across its most hurricane-prone southeastern states. In my role, I led the development of its federal hurricane response plan – a tall task to be sure, but one in which my role was like the conductor of a large symphony. A comprehensive, catastrophic planning effort like this stretches across the entirety of the federal system, where not only the federal government comes together, but states, tribal governments, local communities, and private companies collaborate to ensure a coordinated response for the next hurricane disaster. And that’s what’s crucial – making sure we’re all playing from the same sheet of music and practicing the chords ahead of hurricane season.
When Bill called me again this spring, the same fervor resonated from his voice as it had nearly six years earlier. This time around, the timing felt ripe. WPLG has no interest in abandoning its rich legacy of dedicated hurricane expertise – starting in the early 1990s with National Hurricane Center Director Bob Sheets to the venerable Max Mayfield through the 2010s and then again with long-time hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross. To the contrary, in this new age of social media, where we’re regularly overloaded with information, in a tropical paradise overcome with new people and construction, across a region sitting atop porous limestone overwhelmed by rising seas, WPLG views its commitment to hurricanes as more vital than ever. I’m excited to be a part of the Local 10 Weather Authority and work to reimagine hurricane coverage with South Florida’s largest weather team for an on-the-go community.
Joining the seasoned team at WPLG gives me the chance to bring not only what I’ve learned but what I’ve experienced to one of America’s most beautiful, but vulnerable coastlines. South Florida’s landscape and history is one shaped by the hurricanes it’s encountered. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 devastated Carl Fisher’s Miami Beach, but also showed – perhaps for the first time – the importance of building codes in the hurricane line of defense. George Merrick’s Coral Gables development, with its more stringent building codes, boasted no loss of life in the wake of the great storm. It’s a hurricane that inspired Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who, among her many feats, championed the preservation of the Everglades, and from which the University of Miami, which opened its “doors” in the still unfinished Anastasia Hotel that fall, takes its official Hurricane moniker. And that’s just one hurricane in the dozens to have impacted South Florida since.
Historically, WPLG is the only station in Florida to have a dedicated hurricane specialist because cultivating expertise requires more, both in and out-of-season. As the science evolves and new datasets come online, we’ll update all the ways we analyze new information – from computer programs to new forecasting techniques – that keep you informed throughout the season. We’ll design and test state-of-the-art tools for hurricane season that bring you coverage like you’ve not seen. Moreover, we’ll work to build those important relationships with our partners – from National Weather Service forecasters to the world-famous Hurricane Hunters to emergency managers and elected officials – relationships critical to ensuring a consistent message during times of disaster.
I’m humbled to follow in the footsteps of Max Mayfield and Bryan Norcross. They are, of course, South Florida legends, with whom I count myself lucky to have worked and learned from. For most of you, I’m a fresh face, but I look forward to getting to know each of you and earning your trust. This place knows its hurricanes and this station knows you deserve inventive coverage from the most credible source. See you across all Local 10 platforms beginning June 1st.