In late October, Emmy Award-winning meteorologist Bill Kelly joined the StormWatch7 Weather Team at WJLA-TV, the local ABC affiliate headquartered here in Rosslyn. Recently, you may have seen him doing the weather on a Friday night from our Rosslyn Harvest Fest. We hope to see Bill again at future events!
Ask meteorologist Bill Kelly what his hobbies are, or where he grew up, or what it's like to be on TV every day and he'll give you a good, solid answer. But ask him how he goes about creating a forecast or why he decided to study weather, and his face lights up. Bingo! This is where his heart is. This is what he could talk about for hours with such clarity and genuine enthusiasm that it's hard for others not to get excited about weather, too.
"I love weather. It’s my passion," he says. "If I weren't on TV doing weather, I’d teach it. I love the science of weather and the study of weather. I find it extraordinarily fascinating."
Kelly can recall the exact day and time that he knew he wanted to be a TV weatherman. It was the spring semester of 1994. A Communications Studies major, he was taking an undergraduate geography prerequisite at California State University, and they had just begun a unit on weather. The professor explained cold fronts and warm fronts to the class:
"A cold front spins around counterclockwise as does a warm front in an area of low pressure. A cold front moves faster than a warm front in the Northern Hemisphere."
Then, the bell rang. Most people, Kelly jokes, woke up at that point and gathered their belongings to shuffle off to their next class. But not him. He'd been listening intently, and he wanted to know more. He went up to the professor and asked: "Professor Robinson, if the cold front moves faster than the warm front, eventually it'll catch the warm front. What happens then?"
"That's a great observation," the professor said. "It's called an occluded front. We'll talk about that next time."
And that was the moment, Kelly says, snapping his fingers, that he knew: He wanted to be a TV meteorologist.
"I immediately went to the counselor's office and said, 'I just discovered what I want to do with my life.' What do I need to do next? And right then and there we outlined the remainder of my college life."
Kelly earned his undergraduate degree in Broadcast Communications, adding a minor in Earth Science Geography (Meteorology). After graduating, he got his first job as one of two meteorologists at a small TV station in Eureka, Calif., and went on to get his meteorologist credentials from Mississippi State University.
Since that first job, he's traveled the country covering weather, working at stations in Sacramento, Phoenix, Cincinnati and Columbus before landing here in the D.C. area. Kelly is renowned in his field, having won seven Emmys and five AP Awards for Best Weather/Anchor in Ohio. He was voted Best Weathercaster in both Columbus Monthly and Phoenix Magazine and has made guest appearances on Good Morning America 12 times and World News Tonight four times.
At WJLA-TV and NewsChannel8, he heads up a team of eight meteorologists who produce roughly 100 weather-related broadcasts per day.
He says he is so excited to be here—excited about his job and excited to be newly arrived in the D.C. area, where he will soon be joined by his wife of 15 years, Jolene, and his three daughters, 12-year-old Paige and twin 1-year-olds, Peyton and Piper.
"I can't wait to explore all the awesome things there are to do in the D.C. area with my family," he says. "I'm a family man. If you want to make a bet as to where I'm going to be at any given point in time at any hour of any day, it's either at work or at home 90 percent of the time."
When he's at home, Kelly says he also enjoys playing guitar and piano. He's into home remodeling, as well, saying he's "one of those guys."
"If I can do it myself, I will," he says. "I change my own oil, change the alternator in my car, tile my own bathroom. This tendency can be a strength or a weakness, of course. My wife is always good about lovingly reminding me when I just don't have time to do something. Most of the time, she's right."
So how does a meteorologist you see on TV each day go about creating a forecast? There's a lot more to it than simply reading computer-generated reports. For Kelly, it's the part of his job that he enjoys most.
A forecast, he explains, begins with weather balloons. Twice each day, he says, large weather balloons are launched into the atmosphere all over the world at precisely the same moment, whether they're here in D.C. or London or out on the West Coast. These balloons carry weather instruments (called radiosonde). As they rise, they record data: wind speed, temperature, pressure, humidity. This data is transmitted back to supercomputers here on the ground that analyze it and project weather patterns. One of these computers is housed right here in the D.C. area.
Different computer forecast models (e.g., the U.S.-based Global Forecast System (GFS) and the U.K.-based European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF)) perform calculations to determine what the weather will be. On an average day, Kelly's team analyzes and compares calculations from five or six different models to arrive at a forecast.
Sometimes, all the models come together to reach the same general conclusions, giving team members a high level of confidence in their predictions. Other times, the models diverge, and the group must sift through the data to come up with the best possible forecast, also looking at previous predictions by the models, the climatology of our area and even the clouds outside that day.
"The science and the technology aspects of weather have come a long way," Kelly says, "and it's remarkable that on Tuesday we can now get a hint of what the weekend will be like. Far more times than not, we're able to be pretty accurate."
Currently, viewers can tune in to watch Bill Kelly's forecasts on the ABC-7 evening news at 4, 5, 6 and 11 p.m. For those who haven't watched yet, Kelly says his style may be a bit different from what they're used to, but he hopes people will give him a try.
In Columbus, Ohio, where he worked most recently, he was regarded for his "Weather on the Go" segments, which featured him away from the studio giving weather forecasts from some pretty unusual places: on a pair of skis at Mad River Mountain, scaling a huge wall at a climbing gym in West Columbus, in a kayak on the Olentangy River. He's excited to bring this kind of unique forecasting to the DMV.
Whatever type of broadcast he produces, though, one fact remains clear: Bill Kelly is passionate about weather, and in the past, others have picked up on his enthusiasm and said they enjoyed learning about weather from him. He likes to explain it in simple, everyday language.
"Whenever there's an opportunity, I love to throw little teaching moments in there," he says. "For instance, did you ever wonder what the summer solstice really is? It's not just the first day of summer that we see on the calendar. What's a tornado? What's the difference between sleet, freezing rain and snow? They are very different things that form in different ways. I love to be able to teach about these kinds of topics."
When the weather is violent and dangerous, Kelly is committed to helping people get through storms and keeping them safe. He takes this responsibility very seriously. But the other 320+ days of the year, he says, viewers are going to have fun.
To that end, Kelly has one important message for would-be viewers: He wants people to check out his team's broadcast for one week.
"If you are already a viewer, I thank you," he says. "If not, I personally invite you to check out our station. If you don't like what you see after one week, you have my blessing to go back to what you were watching before. But who knows? Maybe you'll stick around and say, 'Hey, they're doing something a little different over there and I kind of dig it!'"
Welcome to the neighborhood, Bill!