Weather or Not
Following the Forecast with North State MeteorologistsStory: Kerri Regan
Photos: Betsy Erickson
It's supremely frustrating to plan a day on the lake only to have a surprise rainstorm show up, or to organize a picnic on a predicted 80-degree day and have your plans torched by an untimely heat wave.
But rest assured, nobody hates that more than the weather guy.
“It’ll literally put me in a depression some days,” says KRCR-TV Meteorologist Rob Elvington. “I still have nightmares about when I said there would be no rain and it poured all day.”
Adds KRCR Chief Meteorologist Mike Krueger: “I don’t like being wrong. Every morning, I look outside and say ‘yes’ with a fist pump, or say ‘oh, man’ with a heavy sigh.”
Predicting what Mother Nature has up her sleeve is not a job for the faint of heart or the thin of skin, and the North State’s weather forecasters bring scientific know-how, experience and congeniality to their profession. Just a small fraction of meteorologists work for the TV news, and the job requires a broad range of skill, particularly in a smaller market like the North State.
KHSL Chief Meteorologist Kris Kuyper wears three hats during an average workday. First, he’s “a weather nerd,” looking at computer models and making forecasts. Then he “plays graphic artist,” creating the graphics for his forecasts. At 5 pm, it’s showtime and “I’ve got to make meteorology interesting to someone who doesn’t care about meteorology as much as I do,” he says. By the time he goes home, he has forecast the weather on Channel 24, Channel 12 and the CW.
“I really like the challenge of making a prediction,” says Kuyper, who holds a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science from the University of California at Santa Barbara and worked in Grand Junction, Colo., Bakersfield, Alaska and Redding before landing on KHSL’s weather team in Chico about five years ago.
KRCR’s Krueger earned his degree in broadcast communications from Eastern New Mexico University, and his interest gravitated to weather largely by default. “I didn’t want to do news anchoring, and sports was a disaster because I know absolutely nothing about sports,” he says. He enrolled in meteorology school at San Francisco State University, and worked at a chocolate shop to pay the bills. “There was a Korean TV station above the chocolate shop, and I asked if I could do a weather reel in their studio,” Krueger says. “My tape was a disaster – it was absolutely horrendous. But someone saw my potential.” He worked in Wichita Falls, Texas, before coming to KRCR in 1999, and became chief meteorologist less than two years later.
Elvington has been riveted by the weather since age 3, when Hurricane Hugo went over his house. “I’ve been a weather weenie all my life,” says Elvington, who earned his degree in broadcast meteorology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He trained marathon runners for a nonprofit organization before coming to KRCR two years ago.
KRCR’s Carlo Falco earned his bachelor’s degree in meteorology from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire and his master’s in broadcast journalism from Emerson College in Boston. “I’d go to my grandparents’ house, and before we could watch cartoons, my grandfather made us watch the Weather Channel first,” Falco says. “And whenever there was a thunderstorm, instead of keeping us inside, my parents would turn everything off and put us outside to watch the lightning and thunder.”
On a typical weekday at KRCR, Elvington arrives at 3 am to prepare for the morning segments. He stays until noon, and Krueger works from about 2 pm until midnight, doing the evening news and preparing for the next day. Falco does news and weather on weekends. When “extreme weather” hits, it’s all hands on deck.
Technology has made data collection much easier for meteorologists. “Before, if there was a paper jam, all your data was gone,” Kuyper says. But the North State’s varied microclimates make weather prediction challenging.
“It’s a deep valley surrounded by mountains – there’s lots to cover,” Elvington says.
“We’ll be saying the temperature is 30 degrees, but five miles from the center of town it’s 10 degrees cooler,” Krueger says.
Weather variations are particularly tricky in places like Shingletown, which varies in elevation from 2,000 to 4,500 feet. Temperatures, rainfall and dewpoint are fed to KRCR through a high-tech weather station that’s in a resident’s backyard. When some residents repeatedly (and colorfully) insisted that it was incorrect, Krueger went up on his day off, tested it and found that it was flawless.
“I’ve had people call me an idiot – I’ve developed calluses over the years,” Krueger says.
Today’s five-day forecast is more accurate than a three-day forecast was a decade ago, Elvington says. But meteorologists also rely on “weather watchers” to report rainfall, snowfall and current conditions from far-flung places. “That’s how we can be so comprehensive,” Krueger says. “It gives us a better understanding of what’s going on.”
But for all the science and know-how that goes into predicting the weather, sometimes two plus two simply does not equal four.
“I’ll hear all the way across Safeway, ‘Hey weather guy, where’s the rain?’ I’m just trying to get some cereal with my kids,” Kuyper says.
“Being off by three degrees is annoying, but if you said it was going to be sunny, and then the clouds don’t get pulled out of the valley, so above 6,000 feet it’s beautiful but in the valley it’s not…” Falco concludes with a groan and a shake of his head.
Adds Krueger: “We’re not happy your backyard barbecue got rained out. I had a woman call in tears once. I had said it was going to snow, so she canceled a family reunion, and the storm completely died out. She blamed me for everything. She yelled, ‘I can see the sun!’ I felt absolutely horrible.”
“When that happens, I’ll go on the air and say I was wrong and explain why,” Krueger says. “It’s just not a perfect science.
“Mother Nature will always be in charge.”•