October 22, 2014
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From the Editor: How's the Weather?

Checking in with NBC2 meteorologist Robert Van Winkle

 

It was a December morning in New York, a tennis day actually, and I knew it was time to move down here when I looked up to hit an overhead and saw snowflakes descending along with the ball. That was eight years ago, and I’m convinced more than ever that I chose the right weather system. Recently, just for fun, I checked in with veteran meteorologist Robert Van Winkle of NBC2 for facts to validate that decision and to find out what’s up with the weather business here these days.

The Positives

• “Well,” Van Winkle says, “you’re not shoveling snow here in the winter, are you? The season is just beautiful and mild.”

• “We’ve got very predictable weather all year—roughly ranging from the 70s in the winter to the 90s in the summer. You can count on those delightful winters and hot, humid summers.”

• “But, guess what? When a heat wave hits places like Chicago, it can get much hotter in the summer, going up to 105 degrees—the kind of heat we don’t get here. That’s because of our proximity to the Gulf, the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean. And speaking of our hot, humid summers, at least a great number of us are 15 minutes or so from the beach.”

The, Uh, Less-Than-Positives

• “We are the lightning capital of the state because of the sea breeze and rising hot air. The east coast of Florida lightning tends to develop with the storms in the first part of the day. Our coast gets the storm buildups around 3 in the afternoon, and it’s usually more dramatic by then.”

• “Yes, we do get our occasional hurricanes. Wilma was the most recent, back in 2005. But, at least with hurricanes, you can track them from 3,000 miles away and have five days to prepare. In the Midwest, severe weather can be on you in a matter of minutes and that’s just terrifying.”

• “We certainly get our days of high drama. I’ve seen summer thunderstorms drop 5 to 10 inches of rain in one area in just a few hours. It’s all because of our sub-tropical climate and the abundant moisture in place. Extreme cold? I’ve witnessed a handful of mornings in the past 10 years when the thermometer dipped below 32 degrees. That’s headline news in Southwest Florida, but has to be laughable to those down here from up north.”

The State of Weather Forecasting

Van Winkle says people tell him he should feel lucky since they think he’s wrong half the time and still has a job. Actually, with the technology for forecasting getting better all the time, he’s accurate about 80 to 90 percent of the time and points out that weather forecasting just isn’t 100 percent accurate in any case. A U.S. Navy veteran, he started as an aviation and at-sea weather forecaster on the U.S.S. Nimitz from 1978-80. “The best naval technology was based on large-sized grids,” he says, “which were very broad-brush compared to the details we can zero in on today.”

He served 17 years with a station in Charlottesville, Va., where one of his finest moments was once predicting there would be no snow. He promised to stand atop a local mountain in his underwear if he was wrong … and fortunately got to keep his modesty. He arrived in Southwest Florida in 2004. “I was told,” Van Winkle says, “that this is a great place because you never get hurricanes. The last one was Donna, 40 years previous. Naturally, I got Hurricane Charlie in that first year here.”

These days, he’s delivering four forecasts a day, spending up to two hours gathering intelligence for each … with only two and a half to three minutes to report his findings to viewers. He checks complex computer forecast graphics, the hurricane center, satellite images on the radar. The latest tech advance? “NBC2 has access to a dual polarity radar display of the area,” he says. “The imagery is incorporated into Southwest Florida’s only live Doppler radar and delivers horizontal and vertical scans so you can actually see the size of raindrops and how they’re falling. One day, for example, I saw a spot in Cape Coral and alerted them early to possible flooding that ended up as four inches of rain.”

So, dear readers, have a nice day. The weather odds are good if Robert Van Winkle’s feeling cheery about his scans.

 

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