||Last Updated: Aug 28, 2013 - 9:12:12 AM
Rob Fowler. Just about everyone in the Lowcountry recognizes that name. As Chief Meteorologist at NBC affiliate WCBD-TV, Channel 2 News, Charleston’s best-known weatherman has been helping us get ready for the day ahead for the past twenty-five years. We depend on him to know when to pack sunscreen, carry our umbrellas, or simply stay inside if heavy winds are on their way. With his sunny nature (pun intended!), Fowler knows how to put us at ease no matter what the forecast. He is certainly one of the busiest weathermen, too! We see Fowler on TV, we hear him on the radio and we even see him at schools, ballgames, fundraisers and all kinds of events around Charleston. But how much do we really know about Rob Fowler?
Q. Have you always wanted to be a meteorologist?
A. Yes, and I’m very lucky to be doing what I’m doing. Back in 1965, in my hometown of New Orleans, we had a hurricane called “Betsy”. The wind was blowing so hard that the tree branches were banging against the window and the water was lapping up against the door. I was only five years old, but it was my job to put towels under the door to keep the water from coming in. I remember that night very vividly. It was terrifying. But the experience was also really fascinating and I wanted to learn more about how weather works. I became really interested in tropical meteorology. Also, since I always loved radio and TV, I looked into ways I could put these two interests together.
Q. Do you enjoy being in front of the camera?
A. I chose this area of meteorology in order to be in front of the camera. It’s not an ego thing, I just enjoy the whole experience. There are meteorologists at the National Weather Service and forecasters for the aviation industry, for example, who stay behind the scenes. There are a lot of jobs for great meteorologists. They just don’t get to do it in public every day.
Q. If you weren’t a meteorologist, what would you be?
A. Baseball was my favorite sport growing up and I wanted to be a professional ball player. Then the pipe dream ended when everyone else kept growing...but me. If I weren’t a meteorologist, I’d probably be a teacher. One of the best parts of my job is going to schools, like the Daniel Island School, to talk about meteorology and get kids excited to learn more about the weather.
Q. What’s your favorite part of the job?
A. I get to meet so many wonderful people. Last week, we took our whole show out to Summerville. I got to have my picture taken with my childhood hero Reggie Jackson, former player for the New York Yankees and the Oakland A’s, at a River Dogs game the other night.
Q. Are there weathermen who are not meteorologists? What’s the difference?
A. Those of us who report on the weather in front of the camera probably all fall into the category of broadcast meteorologists. All meteorologists go to school and get degrees in the science of meteorology. It’s a myth that weathermen just look out the window and talk about the weather. There is a lot that goes on, especially with all the new technology that’s being developed. Every three years, we have to prove to The American Meteorological Association and National Weather Association that we’ve taken continuing education and professional development and attended certain conferences. They audit you and check your on-air product to see if you’re explaining the weather correctly. Sometimes I feel like I’m in school everyday.
Q. Was earning your degree difficult?
A. I won’t lie to you. Meteorology was tough. Physics and Thermodynamics, especially. But you need it to be hard in order to learn. Hopefully it will make you a better meteorologist in the end.
Q. How do you balance life and work?
A. You learn what’s important. I’ve been a broadcast meteorologist for thirty-one years and I’ve been here in Charleston for over twenty-six of those years. In the beginning it was all work, work, work. Work was the most important thing. I’ve gotten older and wiser, hopefully, and I’ve realized I have a family at home, and there were things I wanted to do to be a better father. I also realized there would be special family times I’d never get back if I chose work instead.
Q. You are very involved with the local schools teaching students about the weather. What motivates you to do this?
A. Education is key. I visit approximately one hundred schools every year, in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties, as well as some summer camps, and I really enjoy it. Honestly, there are times I enjoy talking about the weather to kids even more than standing in front of a camera. It’s very rewarding when I run into a student at a baseball game or some event, and she tells me that she remembers the talk about weather balloons I gave to her class years ago.
Q. Two years ago, you gave a presentation at the Daniel Island School about the importance of using tools like weather balloons in measuring weather. You let the students try out some of the tools, a very hands-on approach to teaching. Are you ever afraid the students will break the tools?
A. Weather is a very hands-on science. I learned early on that you’ve got to connect with your audience, help them to get involved in some way. You just can’t talk over their heads or you’ll lose their interest. But as soon as you bring something to hold on to, like an anemometer (measures wind speed) or a weather balloon (measures weather high up in the atmosphere), to demonstrate, you’ve got your audience’s attention. And I bring smaller, portable versions of the very same instruments we have on our roof here at the station, so they’re less likely to break.
Q. Do you use these tools to determine if a hurricane is coming?
A. Actually, we rely on satellites for information about hurricanes. Satellites and radar are an important part of a big weather computer system. Thanks to satellites, we can look all the way out to Africa and see the beginnings of a tropical storm forming.
Q. Can you predict how severe the hurricane season will be in Charleston this year?
A. We have to remember that every year is different. Each new hurricane season is like a blackboard that’s wiped clean at the end of a day. It doesn’t matter what happened last year - or even ten years ago. Typically we’d have had two storms by the end of July, but this year, we’ve had four already. We’re already running ahead. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a tropical storm or hurricane is coming our way. But since we live along the coast, we should still get ready.
Q. Can you forecast an active or severe hurricane season by looking at the weather patterns in the months leading up to it?
A. Meteorologists look at the activity during tropical season, June 1 through November 30. 80 degrees is the optimal lowest temperature to form tropical systems. It’s been a relatively cool summer here in Charleston, but we’ve got to watch the Atlantic and the Gulf, as well as hotter areas near the equator where hurricanes tend to form.
Q. How severe would a hurricane have to be to affect residents of Daniel Island?
A. The bigger problem isn’t the winds - it’s the water. Daniel Island is not that far above sea level, so the high tides that are part of hurricane season can quickly create a lot of flooding - and major damage! But add a category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane to that problem, then you’ve really got take notice!
Q. Does Daniel Island get more lightning strikes on average than other parts of Charleston?
There’s no proof that Daniel Island has more lightning strikes than other areas. But Daniel Island, like many other warm and humid coastal areas, is inherently prone to thunder storms and lightning strikes.
Q. You started your job here at Channel 2 just two years before Hugo came. How did that hurricane affect you professionally?
A. Hugo was the most important thing to happen to me professionally and personally; although our house was ok, I saw a lot of my friends’ houses destroyed. It’s devastating. You’ll never really understand the impact of a hurricane until you see it up close and personal. It’s not a matter of “if” it’s a matter of “when”. A hurricane is going to happen again. The next one will have its own personality and will impact a different area.
Q. What’s the difference between predicting the weather here in Charleston and Wisconsin, where you worked early on in your career?
A. Wisconsin was challenging because of all the snow which could shut down schools and businesses. But in some ways, it’s more challenging here. The key thing about Charleston is to remember that we get the weather from two sides. We get storms that start in the ocean that move back west and we also get storms coming from the west. I like the challenge, though.
Q. What do you love best about Charleston?
We live in Paradise. Charleston’s a place that people all over the world want to come and visit. Nobody has a bad word to say about the city. My family and I’ve been here for twenty-six years and we love acting like tourists in our own town.
Q. What motivates you to be so involved with charity work?
A. Toys for Tots is my passion. The program, active since the 1950’s just delivered its one millionth toy last Christmas. The station commits 100% support to the Marines who developed and continue to lead the program. With the support of WCBD-TV, we distribute 40,000 toys to 10,000 kids each year. Unfortunately you don’t have to drive far to see a family in need. But the families are always so appreciative. That’s the most rewarding thing I do as part of my job.
Q. I notice that your phone rings a lot.
A. People call me and email me all the time about the weather. Usually they’re having a big event and want to know if the skies are going to be clear so they can go ahead with it. I know that people rely on me - whether it’s to stay safe - or just know that the ball game will still be in swing. It’s part of my job. But I really love doing it!