Talking About the Weather
We asked meteorologist Bill Kelly about derechos, climate change and life on TV.
Name: Bill Kelly
Lives in: Fairfax with his wife, Jolene, and three daughters—Paige, 12, and 17-month-old twins Peyton and Piper
Résumé: Joined WJLA-TV Channel 7 and NewsChannel 8 in Rosslyn last October as chief meteorologist. Previously worked at stations in Columbus, Sacramento, Phoenix, Cincinnati and elsewhere. Kelly has won seven Emmy awards and made guest appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight. He holds a graduate degree in broadcast meteorology from Mississippi State University and has been on camera since he was 24.
Work hours: 2 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. (or later, in the event of extreme weather)
Funnel fixation: When I was maybe 6, I remember hearing tornado sirens while lying in bed during a summer visit to my grandma’s house in Levittown, Pennsylvania, and thinking, That’s not a comforting sound.
The perfect day: Probably pretty close to the general population’s definition. A high temperature of 75 to 78, sunshine, low humidity. A light breeze with a morning low of 50, so you have that crisp chill in the morning, but then you’re warm enough in the afternoon to play golf in a T-shirt.
Then and now: Thirty years ago, you had three major network channels. The on-air guy could be the biggest science geek on the planet and viewers had no choice but to tune in. Now there’s so much information. It helps to find a source you trust and stay with that source. I hope that’s me.
The art of the forecast: I have one of the few news jobs that predicts the future. I do my best to give an honest assessment from a lifestyle perspective. Instead of “Partly cloudy today, high of 50,” it’s “Hey, in the morning, you’re going to want your sunglasses and you don’t need your umbrella. But if you’re taking your sweetie out to an 8 o’clock dinner, guys, you might want to drop her off at the door because of a few showers.”
Pet peeve: Meteorologists who overhype forecasts for the sake of trying to draw viewers. There’s a difference between telling people about a possible scenario versus putting the fear of God in them. Do that over and over, and when the big one’s really coming, people are like, “Oh he’s said this a hundred times. There’s not going to be a severe weather outbreak.” And that time, there’s severe weather.
Not always sunny: When I worked in Phoenix, people said to me, “How hard is it to forecast in Phoenix? It’s sunny and hot every day.” That one used to get in my craw. The summer monsoons there, when it’s 100 degrees and the dew point is 70, the sky opens up like I’ve never seen before. The lightning that comes out of that town—oh, my word! And the dust storms. They’re traveling at 30 to 40 miles per hour. When you’re watching an approaching dust storm that’s a 3,000-foot-high wall of blackness, that’s some crazy stuff.
Proud moment: Summer of 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. It was one of those days where the atmosphere was ripe for severe weather. We got off the air at 6:30 p.m., and not 30 seconds later, a tornado siren rang, so we jumped right back on the air. Once that supercell developed, the outflow winds from it started triggering storms. We were reporting live until 3:20 a.m. You can imagine over the course of nine hours the eyeballs that were on the station. One family said they went to the basement because they had watched my coverage. A tree fell on their house, but all were safe.
Oops: Very early in my career I was in Medford, Oregon, doing morning weather. One day I had forecast “Sunny skies, increasing clouds tonight.” And that was about it. The next morning I walked into the living room and was struck by how abnormally bright it was in my apartment. We had gotten four inches of snow.
On global warming: I can show you data that suggests people just need to settle down and not worry about it. Or I can show evidence that this is a big issue, and that if we don’t stop our ways, Florida’s going to be underwater in 20 years. And then I’m going to get hate mail. The one thing I think we can all agree on is that the climate has changed and will continue to change.
Finding equilibrium: In the end, Mother Nature is always in balance. You may have days that are way above normal and crazy, but then she’s going to flip it. She’s going to balance herself out and have a cold day afterwards. It’s just this beautiful dance.
Oh, kids: It can be snowing outside, and inevitably there’s some kid out there in shorts. The morning may have been extraordinarily mild, but then a front comes in and they’re freezing on the bus ride home. Can’t get your child to take a coat? You can always use us: “Look! Even Bill Kelly says to do that. And he’s the guy on TV.”