It’s been a long, brutal winter, and it’s not over yet. This grim truism has made a lot of people very angry. Sometimes they don’t know what to do with that anger, so they lash out at anybody who seems remotely responsible. Like their local weatherman.
Just ask John Davitt, the chief meteorologist at New York 1 News (NY1), who tweets (along with his team) at @NY1weather.
When the weather is being unreasonable, and he’s the bearer of bad news, sometimes he becomes the brunt of their hostility. “Just make it stop snowing. Okay?” a recent Tweet asked. On Sunday, one New Yorker reacted to news from NY1 that more snow was imminent with an unambiguous “Fuck you.”
And just last night, after NY1 was Twitter-targeted for an obviously tongue-in-cheek radar photo, one bemused onlooker wrote “I feel like NY Weather twitter is going rogue lately and I like it?”
With another storm on the horizon—NY1 has predicted up to 8 inches of snow accumulation in New York beginning tonight—we called Davitt to ask about the surreal reality of being a weatherman in an era of 140 characters.
The storm that’s coming tonight, are we ready for it emotionally?
Nope. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Laughs.]
We can’t handle any more winter?
Everybody is beaten down. Whenever we put anything out there on Twitter, within minutes we get endless retweets and responses, saying things like “No!’ and “I can’t take it anymore” and “I’m going to move!”
Sometimes they direct their fury at you.
That does happen, yes. We get a lot of expletives.
As if it’s somehow your fault.
Somebody’s got to take the blame. They’re not quite killing the messenger yet, but I am looking over my shoulder.
Because of Twitter, is your job as much therapeutic as it is just straight reporting?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I remember when being a TV meteorologist just meant you’d go in front of a camera and talk about the weather. There were the people in the newsroom and maybe an anchor, but that was it in terms of interaction. You didn’t communicate directly with your audience.
But now they have access to you.
Everybody’s got their own axe to grind. Some people want to talk about the models. “What does this model say, what does that model say?” Some people want to know about schools, or what’s going to happen with public transportation. It’s like a little online community where you get to know what everybody’s individual concerns are. Before Twitter, I had no idea how forecasts impacted their lives.
They tell you this?
Oh yeah, all the time. Sometimes we’re just helping people through a rough winter, giving them moral support and telling them how many days until spring. We’re just there to give them a little bit of hope. But sometimes, like during Hurricane Sandy, people would tweet us at 2 in the morning and be like, “Look, I’m in this situation. It’s frightening. What should I do?”
That’s a lot of responsibility.
And you take it personally. You don’t ask for it, but they tell you about their vacations and their weddings. I know somebody on Twitter who was getting married last weekend. So all of a sudden, I go from just putting out a forecast and whatever happens happens, to now I’m involved in whether this guy is going to have his wedding reception or not. This is not what they trained me for at weather school.
So what happened? Did the wedding get cancelled?
Everything was fine. The weather cooperated. But I was definitely following the weather a little less objectively. I really wanted things to work out for him.
If you get it wrong, does the Twitterverse talk smack?
Are you kidding me? All the time. We had a storm in early January, and I think I was predicting three to five inches. Some of the other outlets, like the Weather Channel, were going for maybe double that number. In the days leading up, I’d get a lot of Tweets like “Are you sure? You don’t want to amend that number? You’re probably going to be wrong.” I didn’t change my forecast, and unfortunately I was wrong, and a lot of people were like, “I told you! You should’ve listened to me!”
Haters gonna hate.
With the weather, there’s nowhere to hide. If you say it’s going to snow five inches and it snows fifteen, there’s no way to gloss that over.
Do you have an arch nemesis? Somebody who hates you above all others?
Well, there is one guy.
You know him?
Not personally. But I am a fan of his anti-NY1 Weather Tweets.
He was always questioning our forecasts and calling us all kinds of names and saying we were drunk.
If I can quote him here, “I just like weather guys to not be drunk incompetent buffoons.”
[Laughs.] So fantastic.
Here’s another. “You morons would fuck up a weather forecast on the sun.”
“You fucking lazy self-absorbed contemptuous assholes.”
We had a running Twitter feud for a long time. It would get heated, but it was always a lot of fun. We enjoyed the exchange, the back and forth. I haven’t heard from him in awhile. He’s been very quiet.
That’s really sad. We need him to keep the winter interesting.
I hope we haven’t heard the last of him.
(Post-interview, we learned that Mr. Kaplan has passed away. Davitt also tweeted his regrets.)
Have you had Twitter exchanges with somebody who seemed legitimately insane?
Oh yeah. We’ve got one guy, he’s half mystic, half government conspiracy. He talks a lot about contrails and how the government is conditioning the atmosphere for the aliens’ arrival.
Aliens as in-?
Wow. How do you respond to that?
It’s tough. I respond to a lot of people, but he’s…. boy, I kind of treat him with kid gloves. You just never know with him. A lot of his Tweets come around three, four AM. It’s a little spooky.
Not somebody you want to get in an argument with.
Oh no, no. I either agree or change the topic. Never argue with a guy who thinks the weather is created to appease ET.
So this storm that’s coming tonight? On a scale of one to ten, one being light flurries and ten being arctic bedlam, just how bad is it going to be?
I’d put it in the middle. Like a six.
That’s not too scary.
I push it a little higher because the city is so winter weary. If it was still early in the season, I might call it a four. But we’re getting close to the end of that rope mentally.
And if you’re wrong? If the storm is only a two or three?
I’m sure I’ll hear about it on Twitter.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the February 12, 2014 issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek)[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]