Thursday, March 18, 2010

Interview with ‘America’s Wittiest Weatherman’

Shooting the Breeze with AccuWeather’s Northeast Weather Expert

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Elliot Abrams, senior vice-president and chief forecaster for AccuWeather. Billed on the web site as ‘America’s Wittiest Weatherman,’ Elliot joined the State College, PA-based weather broadcasting outlet in 1967, and was a co-founder of their radio service in 1971. Elliot is himself a blogger, publishing northeastern weather-related posts on His voice can also be heard real-time on some of the many radio news stations throughout the region.

AccuWeather Forensic Meteorologist, Steve Wistar, who I interviewed a couple weeks ago, suggested that speaking with Elliot would be the perfect compliment to the mission of The Northeast Quadrant blog. In addition to pure reminiscing of past storms that both Elliot and I have experienced, this proved true as we spoke of recent and historical weather patterns and trends the northeast U.S. has experienced; how this past winter compared to others for the corridor stretching from Washington, DC to Boston; the effect El Niño now has on the region; and what we can expect over the next several months.

I asked Elliot why we experienced such a harsh winter and he confirmed what we’ve all heard – it’s El Niño! Comparable to the winter of 1977-1978, this past winter featured a very active southern storm track with a sharp northward component along the Atlantic seaboard. That, combined with a steady feed of arctic air pouring down over the eastern third of the nation resulted in historic storms for many mid-Atlantic and northeastern cities. Elliot says, “What was so noticeable this year was the cold and snow. During a typical El Niño similar storms regularly affect these coastal regions, but when you add sub-freezing air to the equation, you’re looking at snow and not rain. And a lot of it!”

If you’re as observant as I am you would have noticed a majority of the storms from December 2009 through late February 2010 began on a Friday and lasted through much of the weekend, with the height of the storm on a Saturday. Little did I know this type of pattern actually makes sense! I discovered that oftentimes weather patterns repeat on a weekly basis. Elliot says, “Given the typical atmospheric environment, if an average sized storm moves at an average speed, a storm will hit every three to four days. If you throw a larger than average storm in the mix you can double that to every six to eight days, and that’s exactly what we saw this past winter.” I learned that such trends are typically broken when a far more intense storm comes through and changes the overall pattern. An example of this is the Snowicane that just a few weeks ago battered the northeast with wind, snow and a colossal coastal pounding.

Could such a dramatic winter reappear next year? What about the year after? How about again in our lifetime? Some of us could only wish! But it doesn’t appear likely. According to Elliot, “In some places this has never happened before so that’s pretty convincing that it may never happen again. If you go back 100+ years and there has never been a winter like this past one, chances of most people experiencing it again are quite low. But all things being equal, sometimes you have a ‘storm of the century’ every few years – sometimes more than once in year – but an overall constant pattern like we just experienced is not very likely.”

What about looking forward? Although Elliot doesn’t focus on long-range forecasting there is evidence as suggested by computer models and noted by the AccuWeather team, that the overall wintry pattern is changing with a flip to a much warmer trend come April and May. This could set mid-Atlantic and northeastern cities up for a much warmer spring and hotter summer than last year – which comparable to the summer of 1976 wouldn’t be too difficult considering last year was quite cool and comfortable. Elliot says, “AccuWeather’s hurricane expert, Joe Bastardi expects a more active hurricane season, especially for the east coast, and that could include the mid-Atlantic and northeast. But again, that wouldn’t be too difficult considering the past few hurricane seasons have been very quiet for the east coast.”

Well, there you have it – a recap of my conversation with ‘America’s Wittiest Weatherman,’ Elliot Abrams. Elliot, thank you again for taking the time to speak with me and sharing your northeast U.S. weather expertise with The Northeast Quadrant!

To our readership, stay tuned to future blog posts as we continue to expand our series of interviews with the most trusted minds in weather!