Hurricane Irene 2011: Jim Cantore Spends The Weekend In Storm's 'Bullseye'
NEW YORK -- When Brian Williams introduced Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel to his "Nightly News" viewers Saturday evening, he added that there's "an expression in the weather business: You never want to be where Jim Cantore is."
Not such bad advice. Cantore, after all, has been in the middle of some of the world's worst storms in the last 30 years, and was here in Lower Manhattan for the past few days because Hurricane Irene was expected to wreak historic damage on the city.
But what's strange is how many people seemed to want to be exactly where Jim Cantore was this weekend.
There was the pregnant woman who stood under an umbrella in the pouring rain, because she "never thought he'd be here, in New York." The NBC producer who snapped a photo with Cantore to send to her college roommate. The men on jet skis who yelled that they had been watching the Weather Channel and wanted to get "in the back of Jim's shot" facing the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park.
One of Cantore's producers, Kevin Gerke, said this was nothing compared to the people who drove toward the tornado in Tuscaloosa, Ala., earlier this year just to meet one of the country's most popular weathermen.
Cantore, who is 47 with a bald head and alternately wears either tight t-shirts or rain jackets with oversized logos, takes the notoriety in stride. He signed every autograph, took every photo, and even, as he was checking into his hotel early Sunday morning, gave forecasts to the other guests who asked. He told The Huffington Post he just wishes there were more for his fans to see when they come find him.
The not-so-hidden secret about television, of course, is that there's a lot of sitting-around time. Cantore spends about 55 minutes of every hour in a car on location, listening to chatter from the Weather Channel's Atlanta headquarters in his earpiece, meteorologists on a National Weather Service chat room and his main producer, Howard Sappington, in the back seat.
Whenever he's reading, his focus is intense. At one point Saturday Cantore went silent for several minutes and then yelled out, "West Hampton Beach, 81 knots? That can't be. Must be a bird on the sensor." (He was right, and the information was corrected quickly.)
He's almost addicted to Twitter, using it to find real-time information as storms progress. When a motorist mentioned that he had driven past convoys of utility trucks in Pennsylvania waiting to head east after the storm, Cantore retweeted it instantly. He didn't mention the fact again on Twitter or in person for two hours -- but then brought it up with ease in a segment for MSNBC.
Cantore enjoys the expanded reach that NBC's ownership of the Weather Channel has brought him; throughout Irene, he was carried frequently on both MSNBC and NBC, in addition to the Weather Channel.
NBC correspondent Peter Alexander calls Cantore a "flat-out stud," and said, "I'll be on my first or second storm of the year, and he's on maybe his fifteenth. It's really a situation where you just look over and see what he does, and then try and do that."
Or, as was the case for Alexander this weekend, huddle with Cantore to get a better understanding of tides and winds and jargon like "renegade rains."
But Cantore -- a media nut who says he'll never forget Brian Williams leaving the Royal Wedding to cover this spring's tornado and beams as a producer says that Al Michaels calls him "Dr. Doom" -- still prefers being on the Weather Channel.
"There's more freedom," he says, adding that he can stay on air a bit longer if he needs to, and can call for more specific graphics on screen than a network audience might want. But part of it surely is that he's worked at the Weather Channel his entire career since graduating college in 1986.
As a boy, Cantore would stay up late and leave the garage light on so he could see the first snowflakes fall in Vermont. His father, seeing this interest, encouraged him to become a weatherman, and he got his start working for the school television station while attending Lyndon State College. His first major storm for the Weather Channel was Hurricane Andrew, which he saw make its second landfall in August of 1992 in Baton Rouge.
Weather reporting has changed quite a bit with new technologies. While it remains difficult to forecast the intensity of a storm, for example, the path something like Irene will take can now be predicted three to four days out instead of just one.
But the reason Cantore remains obsessed with weather, a "Weather GEEK," as he says on Twitter, is that it's "the one thing we can't control."
"I have to be here," he adds. "I have to be in the bull's-eye, because I have to see what happens."
And that's true even if the storm ends up being weaker than expected.
Brian Williams wasn't the first to suggest that not everyone likes seeing Cantore: