As our community (and the Carolinas in general) dealt with the extraordinary storm, Hurricane Florence, WCNC Chief Meteorologist Brad Panovich went above and beyond with his coverage. He was a calm voice in uncertain time, when many Charlotteans feared what was headed our way. He informed us, calmed us, and encouraged us that we would get through this together. When he wasn’t on the air, he was posting updates on social media. Brad’s dedication to providing accurate, much needed information was recognized and appreciated by many viewers and followers. An Ohio native, Brad has lived here since 2002.
When did you realize that Florence was going to be monumental?
The interesting thing about Florence was when it formed, it wasn’t much a concern. Historically, storms that form in that location don’t impact the U.S. It wasn’t a big deal at first, but then it started a west/southwest pattern we haven’t seen before. I knew it was going to be an issue for the Carolinas. Then we saw it was slowing down, about 7-8 days out, and that was a big concern because slow moving storms have the biggest impact.
What was it like behind the scenes?
We started ramping up about a week before the storm, from a logistics and coverage standpoint. We were having discussions about being prepared, protecting the people at the station and the station itself. Having conference calls and making sure there was a backup facility. As chief meteorologist, I wanted to make sure the employees were safe to get out work and that we had all the supplies we needed.
When you weren’t on air, what other things were you doing?
I was on conference calls with corporate, or the city or county. I was helping the department of emergency management, briefings for the mayor, making sure the city was well prepared. I was talking to the fire chief and uptown business leaders. I was also getting a lot of interview requests. It was tough, but people wanted my opinion and I felt it was an honor.
Were you sleeping at the station, because it seemed like you were always working?
I never slept at the station, but it felt like I lived there. We went on to 12-hour shifts, so 2 am – 2 pm, but really it wound up being 12-15 hours a day at the station. When things were getting crazy, my day would start at 5 am, and I was getting 3-4 hours a sleep. I have a great setup with my home office, so I could do my calls with city and county officials from home. I needed to do updates at 5 am, 11 am, 5 pm, and 11 pm.
People really seemed to appreciate your efforts and sacrifices (time away from your family, not sleeping/eating much), and there was a lot of positive engagement on social media. Did the few negative trolls bother you?
Not really. You get used to things like that when you’re on TV. My biggest concern is always the impact is has on other followers. I don’t even delete them, unless it’s derogatory or negative toward other followers—or bad (inaccurate) information.
Image from Instagram @wxbrad
You stressed the seriousness of the storm without creating drama or panic. Has that always been your style, to stay composed and calm?
That’s something I take pride in, because in my business, news is sensationalized. But I consider myself a scientist first, before being a broadcaster. When you are overly dramatic you might get a short term bump in viewers, but I think it hurts your credibility in the long term. If you cry wolf, people become numb. We don’t need hype. We don’t need to freak out about every weather event, but we do need to be ready for the real ones.
Yet meteorologists sometimes have a reputation for getting viewers hyped up.
I heard a social scientist say that she thought of weather hype as just scaring people without informing them, and I agree. We need to provide useful information, so people know what to expect and can prepare. That’s why I focus on the potential impact more than what we call a storm, or the category.
People tend to get focused on category of a storm.
Right. People shouldn’t think that just because a storm is downgraded that the impact won’t be as much. I’m glad to answer questions if people are confused or need information. I don’t mind explaining, and I think it’s important to improve our messaging as scientists. We have to communicate in a way that people can understand. In fact, the National Hurricane Service made adjustments after Hurricane Sandy. People saw it downgraded and didn’t think it was as much of a threat. But it caused all kinds of problems when it made landfall. Now, even if a storm weakens, the National Hurricane Center keeps the warning. It remains the same warning, even if it’s downgraded, as to not confuse people.
Image from Instagram @wxbrad
You encouraged people to check if they lived in a flood zone. That probably something not a lot of people thought about before Florence.
Charlotte’s flood plains are changing all the time as development increases, because it creates more impervious surfaces, like concrete. One thing the city has done was to buy up properties in flood plains and created greenways in those areas. Greenways are supposed to flood, so the houses don’t. Charlotte has been a model for doing that; very proactive.
Would you say Charlotte is a city prone to flooding?
We are prone to flash floods because of our creeks and elevation changes. The reason they call it “uptown” isn’t just for marketing reasons. There’s actually science behind it, because uptown actually sits on a ridge.
Why aren’t you on vacation? You worked do much to get everyone ready for the storm.
It was 13 days in a row, without a day off. I knew I’d need some time off after everything, but I wanted my staff to take off first.
What about weather makes you so passionate?
I’ve just always been passionate about the weather. I never wanted to be on TV, I just loved weather and wanted to be a scientist. I didn’t think being a weather geek would work on TV, but it has. Now I get to educate people. I don’t want to be just a talking head.
What’s something that most people would be surprised to know about you?
Maybe that I’m quiet and introverted in real life. I’ve always been like that, unless it’s something I’m interested in or passion about. I could talk about the weather and science all day. When I speak at career days, I always tell kids to find something you love to do. You’ll still have to work hard. I’ve worked hard. But if you would have told me when I was younger that I’d get paid to this, I would have said “no way!”
What’s life like when you’re not working?
I’m kind of a homebody. I really love hanging out at home with my family. We like hanging out in the backyard, listening to music, cooking. We go to the neighborhood pool a lot in the summer, bring a cooler of food and cookout. As a family, we like to go bowling at Ten Park Lanes on Montford. I’ve taken my kids to the driving range to hit balls, which was really cool. When we do go out to eat, our favorite restaurant is Ilios Noche in Quail Corners. Because I work so hard, I really just want to be with my family when I’m off.
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