By 10 AM the first flakes had begun falling on Washington, but an hour earlier, the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore, posted near the Capitol building, was getting frustrated. The storm was supposed to have begun. He locked his eyes on a cloudy but dry sky and shook his head. “Being a forecaster who’s already been here for two busts, yes, I’m a little concerned,” he said. He even threatened to abandon ship. “I will quit coming to Washington if doesn’t snow here. I’m serious, I won’t come back here; I don’t care if there’s 60 inches of snow forecast.” Fortunately, it appears one of television’s most popular and respected meteorologists will keep the nation’s capital in his peripatetic professional life.
We watched as Cantore and his producer and cameraman did live shot after live shot—what Cantore calls “puking them out”—on the corner of 400 North Capitol Street, Northwest, with the Capitol as a backdrop. “You have to go all the way back to before January 26, 2011, for the last time we hit two or more inches here,” he said. “For three years [Washington] has been in a massive snow drought.” Why was it not coming down in the way that had been predicted? Cantore said the storm was “bending around DC,” a phenomenon the city has experienced with previous snow threats. It was remarkable, too, he said, “because it’s snowing in Baltimore, it’s snowing in Philly, and it’s snowing in New York City.”
We pressed him to give context to Washington’s flukey winter weather. “If I were to just stop for a second and ask, ‘What’s going on meteorologically?’ you watch this energy come through the Midwest, and the snow that they get there sometimes jumps to the coast, because that’s where the energy goes,” he explained. From there, he said, it spins up and coats the northeast coast, making snow in DC difficult. Unless, of course, the storm is coming up from the Gulf Coast, which he calls “a much better track.”
Cantore said he’s reported on three real snowstorms in Washington, including the famous “commutergeddon” of 2011. “That was the time we went from rain to snow, and as soon as everybody saw it change to snow they left their offices and spent the night on the George Washington Parkway,” he recalled. For the famous Snowmageddon of the year before he was in Vancouver.
“I love coming to Washington—I’m just beginning to sour about coming here for weather,” he pointed out with a laugh. “One bust is fine, two busts hurt, three busts is unacceptable.”
When he has a chunk of time between live shots, Cantore retreats to his rental car, where he pores over weather data on his computer. The cameraman, Mike Broleman, zips himself inside a so-called Pak Shack, which he said is typically used for ice fishing. Broleman, producer Steve Dresner, and Cantore suit up for the weather in layers of clothing, hooded jackets, hats, and smartphone gloves. Cantore has layering down to a science. “There’s a base layer, which goes against the body, almost like a second skin. There’s a mid-layer, which can consist of fleece, some type of semi-lightweight jacket, then another fleece over that, a jacket, and the outer shell.” His gloves are Smartwool from L.L. Bean, which pull up high, between his wrists and elbows.
They never know where they will be sent, said the Rockville-based Dresner, and they don’t get to pick and choose their storms. Case in point: Cantore said he arrived last night from a skiing trip in Utah. He woke up Sunday morning thinking he was going to have a “bluebird day, lather sun sauce on my head, and enjoy a beautiful day in Park City—and then all of a sudden it’s, ‘Jim, we’ve got a big potential in the Northeast.” He got the last seat on a flight to Washington.
“I’m a lot of moving parts,” he said of his professional life. But he’s always ready. Back home in Atlanta he has “go packs” for whatever the assignment may be. “I have a whole closet dedicated to storm coverage, whether it’s hurricanes, winter weather, or severe weather in the spring.”