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Forget Florida, the Real Hurricane's in Philly
"The Weather Channel had never covered a hurricane before, other than just showing the maps, and they were not real happy I'd done it," recalled Schwartz, 54. "Especially that I was gone for a week and it cost them all this money. But when they saw the ratings, they changed their minds and were very happy."
A couple of years after his hurricane chasing days, Schwartz was working as a meteorologist for WNYW-TV in New York City, and the station decided to run the footage with Schwartz getting blown around and pelted by rain. A quick-witted anchorman started calling him "Hurricane."
"It stuck immediately," said Schwartz, now the chief meteorologist at NBC-10 in Philadelphia.
But chasing down hurricanes is dangerous business, and with what could be the worst season in recorded history just wrapping up, "Hurricane" Schwartz believes the current adventurers employed by TV networks, some of whom are not professional meteorologists, should beware of the consequences.
"I think that it's gotten out of hand, and one of these days a storm chaser is going to die - maybe even on live television," he said. "That's something that a meteorologist wouldn't let happen because we would understand more about the storm and the dangers."
Schwartz, a Mount Airy native who grew up going to services at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park and now lives in Lower Merion, studies and tracks Philadelphia's weather as vigorously as he did those earlier hurricanes. His portion of the NBC-10's Bala Cynwyd studio is filled with countless computer screens showing maps and tracking devices used to forecast the weather.
He said that his years working for the Weather Channel, the National Weather Service and local news stations in Florida give him a unique perspective on the storms that ripped through the Gulf Coast this year, and whether or not the widely talked about phenomenon of global warming helped intensify these systems.
Global warming, he went on, "maybe helped make a Category 3 storm become a Category 4 because the ocean was so warm. We don't really know why the ocean was so warm this year. If the ocean is still warm next year and the year after that, then 20 years from now, we may look back on this season and say it was the first year we saw global warming kick in, affecting the intensity of storms."
Schwartz's interest in weather was peaked in the fifth grade, and by watching local TV weathermen like Herb Clarke, Dr. Francis Davis and Wally Cannan, the "Weather Man."
"I always wanted to forecast the weather," said Schwartz. "I'll bet the majority of the meteorologists in this country started with an interest as children. You get that interest and you never lose it."
As for the signature bow tie he wears on every broadcast, Schwartz said it's actually one of the terms of his contract.
"The boss said, 'Our main weather guy is John Bolaris, and he dresses beautifully and he's wearing $2,000 suits and can be on the cover of GQ magazine. I picture you as the anti-Bolaris,' " explained Schwartz, who's since acquired the chief meteorologist spot from Bolaris.
"This area is among the most challenging places in the country to forecast," declared Schwartz. "In Florida, you can go a couple of weeks without the weather changing at all. It's more interesting up here. It's more challenging, and it's also home."