Weatherman in Winter: Q&A with Ed Hanna

Weatherman in Winter: Q&A with Ed Hanna

Mark Twain supposedly said, “A great, great deal has been said about the weather, but very little has ever been done.”

But today’s meteorologists make a strong effort to help us cope with the vagaries of sun, clouds, wind and rain. And during the winter months, we turn to them to stay abreast of travel conditions, temperatures, and how much we might (or might not) have to shovel, chop or scrape the next day. And let’s not forget snow days, skiing conditions, and the perennial hope for a white Christmas!

WFMZ-TV’s chief meteorologist Ed Hanna joined the station in 1996. He co-created the Accu-Weather Channel; has been voted Best Weathercaster in Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Associated Press; designed the weather exhibit at Allentown’s DaVinci Science Center; and has presented “Weather, News and You” to tens of thousands of elementary school students in eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey.

In a rare bit of downtime, Ed sat down for a chat.


Q. Ed, what sparked your interest in weather?

A. It’s something that always fascinated me – and in my travels, I’ve learned I’m not alone. When I visit schools, I’m often asked to spend some extra time with students who share my passion for understanding weather. And I’ve met many adults who just can’t get enough weather data.


Q. Any ideas why?

A. Well, weather is one thing we all have in common. And I think our school system is, indirectly, a big contributor.


Q. How so?

A. If we get enough snow, schools will close. So I think kids get excited and pay more attention to those forecasts. And for some, that sense of excitement continues into adulthood.

On average, our area will get a 10-inch snowstorm only once every two years. And even after a four-to-eight-inch snowfall, people are usually out and about the next day. But people still scramble for milk and bread ahead of a storm; those rough times are really pretty unusual, but we still get excited.


Q. Writers and musicians often cite their creative influences. Did you have any favorite forecasters?

A. Jim O’Brien, who worked at WPVI in Philly from 1976 until his unexpected death in 1983. Even as a child, I loved his warmth and humor – although he’d be absolutely serious about the weather
when necessary.

He influenced me very much. I never met him, but I still love to hear stories from people who knew him.


Q. Is winter really tougher on your team than others?

A. Definitely. During the other three seasons of the year, we can be confident that the weather will affect everyone in our viewing area pretty much the same way. But our geographic area has a “snow/ice/rain” line.


Q. What does that mean?

A. Because of our mountains and valleys, moist air can act differently in different areas. It’s why some parts of our viewing area can get 20 inches of snow, while others get a slushy inch or two, or even plain rain – all from the same storm.

The snow/ice/rain line also means that moisture can change from one form to another, and pretty quickly. I often tell people that the Lehigh Valley is one of the most challenging areas on the planet for
weather forecasters.


Q. How does your team handle these situations?

A. I encourage them to give people lots of information, early – but to be as accurate and useful as they can. People base many decisions on our information, and that’s a tremendous weight on us. Our forecasts are a mix of art and science: the science from the models’ data, and the art from our own experiences and understanding.


Q. I’m curious about weather models – why are there so many? And why do their predictions vary so much?

A. Weather models are just tools. And every model considers different factors. They all use their own complicated formulas and algorithms to crunch data from weather balloons that are launched only twice a day, and only in certain areas.

But there are hundreds of thousands of variables in the atmosphere, and they are always changing. Obviously, the data the models use is incomplete, and errors will creep in. They might not have a big effect over a day or two, but those errors can compound over time.


Q. So the really-long-term forecasts that we often see on social media – “Experts predict 35 inches of snow in March” – aren’t all that accurate?

A. No, they aren’t, because of all the variables. But it’s easy for someone to misinterpret one line of data from a single model, post a “prediction” on social media, and whip people into a panic. It’s much like the medical student who reads a list of symptoms, and becomes convinced that she has a rare, exotic disease.

Our meteorologists get only a couple of minutes during a newscast to report on the weather, and we really don’t like using that air-time to debunk rumors. That’s why we put out our numbers only when we’re confident of them.


Ed-Hanna-2Q. Ed, that’s enough shop talk. I have a couple of “fun” questions. What’s your favorite season?

A. I suppose it’s “politically correct” for a meteorologist to say “all of them,” but autumn is my favorite. We hit September and you see the beauty of the leaves as they start to change; it means we’re approaching Thanksgiving, too! I like spring, too, because I can see the Earth coming back to life.


Q. Any favorite wintertime activities?

A. Until 2009 – when I spent the year recovering from neck surgery, a disk replacement and rotator cuff injury – I had lots of fun skiing. Since then, I really don’t want to risk falling! Today, I like spending time with my family and friends, and taking long walks that let me enjoy the beauty around us.


Q. And your choice of a winter getaway?

A. You mean other than the Lehigh Valley? The Poconos! It’s very peaceful and quiet there. I can get away from “light pollution” and see lots of stars overhead, and even some deer in the woods. It’s really helped me to appreciate nature.



All year long, we get weather advisories, warnings and watches. But what do they really mean? And which is the worst? These general definitions from the National Weather Service will help to put them in perspective. Remember, though, that the specific conditions that trigger these situations vary from region to region.

An ADVISORY highlights special weather conditions that are less serious than a warning. They are for events that may cause significant inconvenience, and if caution is not exercised, it could lead to situations that may threaten life and/or property.

A WATCH is used when the risk of a hazardous weather or hydrologic event has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location, and/or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so that those who need to set their plans in motion can do so.

A WARNING is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurring. A warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property.


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