- Brian Wimer is Senior Meteorologist and Snow Warning Services Manager for AccuWeather.
- For the past 40 years, he has tracked snowstorms and helped schools, businesses and residents prepare.
- Here’s her story and what her job looks like, told to freelance writer Robin Madell.
This essay as told is based on a conversation transcribed with Brian Wimer, a Senior Meteorologist and Snow Warning Services Manager for AccuWeather based in State College, Pennsylvania, where he has worked for 40 years. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I attended Pennsylvania State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in meteorology. Some people in the field go on to graduate school, but many, like me, embark on careers with a bachelor’s degree.
Remuneration in the field of meteorology varies greatly depending on the job you hold. Meteorologists on television in major cities are among the highest paying jobs in the field.
While my typical workday is about eight hours, the days leading up to a major winter storm can be 10 or 12 hours.
It is not uncommon to see colleagues coming to work with a travel bag.
While the days of forecasting large storms are the busiest and most hectic, forecasting and tracking these storms is exciting and this is what led us to become meteorologists. An analogy would be a football team that gets better when they face the best team in the league – with all the challenges and the energy that brings.
During a big storm, we work together to share the latest information, constantly looking for things that may change with the storm and discussing whether we need to adjust our forecast for any location.
We are all fully dedicated to our mission of keeping people, communities and businesses safe and secure, and these moments are legendary and etched in our memories and constitute great âwar storiesâ over the years. My colleagues and I all have great respect for each other and appreciate our common bond to help people make the best decisions in the event of a weather impact.
During the day there is great collaboration with other forecasters both at State College, PA – where AccuWeather was founded in 1962 and where our global headquarters are located – and in Wichita, Kansas, where we have an experienced team of storm-warning meteorologists in our Extreme Weather Center, who provide forecasts to our AccuWeather for corporate clients.
On a typical winter day, the first thing I do is look at which areas a storm can impact.
It is not only in the next few days, but also in the next six to eight days.
Once we’ve identified a storm, part of my day is proactively sending out alerts and warnings to customers with details of what they can expect from the storm in their location. We mainly send them by email, SMS and posted on a web portal for customer access.
Another part is doing phone briefings for our business clients and the media. These could be one-on-one calls or sometimes conference calls with hundreds of people, explaining the details of the approaching storm and answering questions.
We partner with TV stations and provide briefings and forecasts to their meteorologists and on-air broadcasters. In many cases, the TV meteorologist prepares his own forecast, but wants information and insight from the AccuWeather team, which can often give him an edge over his competition.
We also do live radio reporting on numerous radio stations across the country and conduct media interviews on the impact of the storm and provide preparedness advice.
Every storm has unique aspects that we focus on forecasting in advance
At the start of the day, the first thing we do is look at the current weather conditions, accessing our database of reports from around the world, including data from surface stations, hot air balloons, satellite imagery and radars. This includes temperature, humidity, wind, and where it rains or snows.
Next, we take a look at a wide variety of forecasting models that provide insight into what will happen over the hours and days to come. We also take into account our experience and what we remember having happened in similar situations in the past. By putting all of this together and discussing the possibilities with other forecasters, we come to a forecast of how a storm will behave, including how much it can strengthen (and how fast) and in what direction and how fast. it will move.
Another concern is the high rate of snowfall. Even a storm producing moderate total snowfall accumulation can become very problematic if there is a period of heavy snowfall. When snowfall rates reach or exceed an inch per hour, it becomes very difficult for road crews to stay ahead of the storm and keep the roads in good condition. These are the types of details that we go into and provide that make us appreciated by our customers and consumers.
We work with a variety of clients that winter storms affect differently
Among them, school districts and universities, which rely on our forecasts to decide to cancel or delay classes and also plan snow removal. They can call us and ask questions to get the latest update right before their decision.
Departments of Transportation use AccuWeather forecasts to plan their snow removal operations, including personnel planning. They don’t want staff to wait too long for a winter weather event to start. In some cases, they are required, through contracts with employee unions, to provide minimum notice in the event of overtime. Before making these decisions, DOTs can talk to us, ask questions, and get a feel for our level of confidence in our forecast.
Private companies, manufacturing plants, medical centers and utilities want to be warned in advance of storms that can disrupt operations, which can result in loss of life, injury or the loss of millions of dollars in due to interrupted business operations. Retail businesses are another type of customer. They are interested in the impacts of storms not only on their physical locations, but also on their supply chains.
Although snow can disrupt normal business operations, some customers are eagerly awaiting snow, and it is good for their business. Private contractors clear snow from parking lots and depend on winter storms for their income. Ski resorts are another example of the type of business that depends on an abundance of snow or, conversely, needs to know when to make snow to meet the needs of its customers.
One of the most memorable and exciting winter storms of my career took place in March 1993, known as’Storm of the Century‘
I slept at the office, like a few other forecasters, partly because I was working long hours but also because the roads became impassable and I couldn’t drive home anyway.
This was very remarkable for the dumping of more than a foot of snow over a large area stretching from northern Alabama to Quebec, Canada. It also produced damaging wind gusts and flooding along Florida’s west coast.
I remember when a radio customer informed us of a listener who overheard AccuWeather predicting that a dangerous blizzard was approaching while he was in his car. He stopped and waited in a library for the storm to pass and enjoyed the forecast so much that he contacted the radio station to let them know, and they in turn shared their gratitude with us. These moments are so enriching.