Long before Brad Panovich was the national Meteorologist of the Year, he was a 6-year-old watching his father climb out of a window because their door had been snowed shut at their split-level home in Northeast Ohio.
As he waited for his dad to shovel a path to free the door, his excitement about playing in the snow grew exponentially. With his snowsuit on, Panovich found himself face-to-face with 6-foot-high snow drifts. “I wanted to know how that happened,” he said. “I was just mesmerized by it.”
He has been fascinated with the weather ever since. “From that moment on, I remember every severe weather event: tornado, flood — I just wanted to be outside. I was fascinated with bad weather. Everyone else is scared and running for their lives and I’m running outside to go look at it.”
Since January 2003, WCNC’s chief meteorologist has found his way into Charlotte-area living rooms and social media, protecting the Carolinas with his warnings of hurricanes, tornadoes, snow storms, floods and extreme heat. How does he manage to always be around when we need him? When does he sleep?
The self-proclaimed geek with a gamer background has built his own weather office in his study off the master bedroom at his house. It’s equipped with a super computer setup, including three monitors, HD cameras and adjustable lighting capabilities. He slides the barn door closed in the middle of the night to keep his wife from waking up when he goes on Facebook live to update us all on any weather events.
He wakes up to have breakfast with his kids, which means he gets 4 hours of sleep — if there are no overnight weather alerts. He has dinner with his family, then puts the kids to bed on his evening break before heading back to the station to do the 11 o’clock news. And in between, he’s playing with his weather station in his backyard (a WeatherFlow Smart Weather Station), updating us during NBC’s 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. broadcasts or talking to us via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.
In fact, when the American Meteorological Society named him meteorologist of the year for 2018, they did so based partly at least on his social media life, stating that the award was “For passionate devotion to informing his on-air audience and for extensive use of social media to educate the public about meteorology.”
We sat down with Panovich for the first time in a few years to get his take on all things weather and Charlotte:
CharlotteFive: Let’s talk about social media.
Panovich: Now that I have kids, I know a lot of people aren’t watching TV, which is horrible to say, so I gotta be there somewhere. I gotta be on Facebook, I gotta be on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube. I gotta reach them. That might be the only way you can get a warning to somebody.
CharlotteFive: You are known for getting important weather news out, fast. That said, the news you’re delivering isn’t always happy news. Do people ever blame you for bad weather?
Panovich: The worst is Facebook for that. That’s just the nature of Facebook in general. You see it with political discourse, food, sports. People just are very mean in that standpoint. I’m very transparent. I don’t delete posts; it holds me accountable but also my followers. If people get angry at me, I say ‘What did I blow’ and I can point back and say ‘Here’s what I did two days ago.’ The thing about forecasting the weather you’re never going to be 100 percent right. If you are, I’d be a little scared. The goal is to learn from the missed forecast. I keep diligent stats on my accuracy. If I have a bias, it helps me correct it. I’m accurate about 94 percent of the time. That still means, in a calendar year, that’s about 27 days missed; that’s almost a month. So as good as that is, you’re still gonna miss about a month of a forecast. That’s a good chunk of days.
CharlotteFive: If you could ban one question from your viewers ever asking again, what would it be?
Panovich: ‘How much at my house?’ I got that question a lot — First of all, I don’t know where your house is. I cover 22 counties. Is that Boone, is that Hickory? It’s gotta be really specific, like: ‘I need to know the forecast for the south side of Matthews’.
CharlotteFive: What are your favorite questions to get from viewers?
Panovich: ‘Can you explain this to me, Brad?’ I like when people ask for information about the science of the weather.
‘Brad, is this picture legit?’ I like debunking fake videos. People have learned to vet stuff through me.
‘How can I get more involved in meteorology?’ I find there’s a lot of closet weather geeks out there. I love talking about becoming a spotter, getting a backyard weather station.
‘Can you come to my school?’ Kids message me from their mom’s Facebook page.
CharlotteFive: What sayings are you known for?
Panovich: I use the term ‘severe clear’ a lot when we have great weather. It’s a term pilots use for unlimited visibility. One of my favorites I’ve been using a lot is ‘air you can wear’, when it’s really muggy out. You walk outside and you can feel it right away.
CharlotteFive: What’s the scariest storm you’ve experienced in Charlotte?
Panovich: There are actually three, and they were all in the same month, in April 2011. We had a derecho, which is basically a long-lived windstorm. We had 80-90 mph winds. It knocked down Duke Power tension metal lines in Gaston County. It knocked down power lines on I-485. A week later, we had a baseball-sized hail storm that came to Rock Hill. There was a third event that was the scariest, April 16: the biggest tornado outbreak in North Carolina history. We had 32 tornadoes that day. We got really lucky in Charlotte, but I was up all night: The line crossed over us at 4 a.m. When the sun came up it dropped tornadoes. We missed out on being hit; that was scary. Knowing the ingredients that were in place, we were so incredibly lucky.
CharlotteFive: What’s this winter going to be like?
Panovich: This winter I would expect to be kinda snowy and mild. We should be above average temperatures because El Niño is developing. The problem is, with climate change, it’s hard to say it’s ever going to be cold. Snow and cold don’t always go together. Usually cold winters are dry; you actually want wet and mild winters. Then you can time out a cold snap and get a snow storm. Everything’s kinda going the way of global warming except for autumn. Winter’s been warming, spring’s been warming, summer’s been warming by crazy amounts. There’s no way to trick the data; it’s been warming.
CharlotteFive: Is it going to keep getting worse?
Panovich: Unless something changes, everything points to us getting warmer. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a cool year or mild year here and there, but the long-term trend will be warm. Unless C02 miraculously cuts off and we get a giant volcanic eruption, we could always hope for that.
CharlotteFive: What’s your at-home storm plan?
Panovich: My son is really good about it. When we first moved in, that was the first thing he said: ‘Dad, where are we going to go if there’s a tornado?’ We have a walk-in closet underneath the stairs. We take our bike helmets in there. That’s the thing about severe weather: it rarely sneaks up on us. I’ll know a day ahead of time, I’ll tell my son: ‘Go put the flashlight in there or your iPad, have it charged, put the bike helmets in there.’
That’s usually the first thing I do when I look at any building. Maybe it’s just my weather mind, but I think about it everywhere.