With the remnants of Irma slowly dissipating over Alabama on Tuesday afternoon, chief meteorologist Alan Sealls of WKRG in Mobile turned from one phenomenon to another: his own sudden and unexpected rise to internet celebrity.
The Emmy-award winning meteorologist, a 30-year TV news veteran, was delivering his usual style of educational and calm reporting on Hurricane Irma's track towards the U.S. mainland last week when the internet suddenly took notice. A user on the popular social networking site Reddit uploaded a newscast of Sealls that quickly racked up millions of views and earned him the moniker of "Best Weatherman Ever."
You can see the video that made Sealls famous below.
On Tuesday, after an outpouring of support from people eager to learn more about the internet's newly crowned weather hero, Sealls sat down for a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" to talk forecasting, fame and the weather phenomenon known in Mobile as a "jubilee." Below are just a few of his best responses from the lengthy Q&A session.
Q: What was your reaction to being voted "Best Weatherman Ever" by so many people?
A: Bizarre is my reaction! It's nice though, that people are happy and excited to learn something that makes them smarter and safer. I don't mind the publicity from a professional perspective. Personally, I'm perfectly happy without it.
Q: If I understand correctly are you actually interpreting raw data to make your own forecast?
A: Good question - I make my own forecast from plotted upper air charts, wind profiles, satellite and radar depictions and then computer model forecasts and numerical output. We share it within WKRG but not outside of the station. I'm trained as all government meteorologists are. I make my own forecast because that makes me comfortable with what I'm saying. It is, however, rarely that far different from what the National Weather Service would say for my area.
Q: What is commonly misunderstood by the general public about meteorology that you want to correct?
A: People expect precision in a forecast that just does not exist, while they look at pixels on smartphones. We know a lot about weather but not everything. Rain chances are also misinterpreted but they are also used differently around the country and world. A low rain chance does not mean that it won't rain, and a high rain chance doesn't guarantee that you'll get a lot of rain. I use rain coverage rather than chance since my region gets rain on almost every summer day.
Q: What is a weather event/phenomena that you want to witness someday?
A: I'd love to see a tornado (in the open plains where no one is at risk). I've seen funnels and waterspouts but never a tornado... in part because I go to work when there's a threat of one.
Q: How does it feel getting this amount of recognition over something you've been doing for so long? What is the best piece of advice you can offer to aspiring meteorologists or educators?
A: The attention is nice from the standpoint that my mission has always been to educate (and entertain some). I do this as a part time college professor too. My best advice is put yourself in the seat of your audience. Throwing facts at them is not teaching. Make it interactive and fun with energy and enthusiasm and real-life examples. Interactive on TV is answering the questions people want to know, not what you want them to know!
Q: In what ways did the new GOES-16 satellite help make predictions about any of the tropical systems we've had this year?
A: I know that it is feeding much more data into the models but I don't know to what degree. I'm hoping that the "relatively" good track forecast for Irma is a result of that and a sign of long-term improvement. The winds of Irma were much harder to forecast. That's true of all hurricanes. As much as new technology helps. There are still areas we need more knowledge and data in.
Q: Can you talk about why most news outlets don't discuss the potential effect of climate change on these storms?
A: My best answer is that most of us focus on the immediate issue, more than whether it is part of a trend. I'm not saying that's right or wrong. I can say that no one storm can be attributed to climate change. Climate is a long term picture. Storms are controlled by the weather of the day.
Q: Has anyone actually figured out what is going on during a jubilee?
A: A jubilee is what we (in the Mobile Bay area) call a phenomenon where in a quiet weather pattern controlled by high pressure, a very light wind over a shallow bay or lake pushes the top layer of water away from the shore. That carries oxygen away from the shore leaving the fish and sea life weak, and disoriented, left to suffocate. People then go out in the water and gather up as much as they can!
And finally, fingers crossed everyone...
Q: Would you consider combining meteorology with education and becoming a weather science communicator and science advocate a la Bill Nye or Neil DeGrasse Tyson?
A: Not a goal but you never know...
To read the rest of the Reddit AMA with Sealls, jump here.