* Welcome to the 82nd installment of The Quaz Q&A. This feature—a question-and-answer session with a person from sports/entertainment/politics/whatever—will appear every week on jeffpearlman.com. If you have any suggestions/ideas for people to speak with, hit me up at email@example.com. I’m listening.
Why? Three reasons:
1) They were on television.
2) They always seemed to be very excited about weather.
3) They often seemed to be wrong.
Regrettably, I never knew anyone who did televised forecasts. Mr. G once came to my elementary school, but not my class. Nick Gregory lives 1/4 mile from my home, but we’ve failed to chat. Alas, my life is a sad and incomplete one.
Hence, it brought me great joy when Amy Freeze—one of America’s most famous TV meteorologists—agreed to be Quazed. Amy is the weekend meteorologist at WABC-TV in New York, but her resume offers up some long, winding, riveting stops and experiences. She was the first-ever female sideline reporter for Major League Soccer. She did the same gig for the Chicago Bears. She lost a ton of weight, married BYU’s mascot, has traveled alone on an airplane with four kids and is a six-time marathoner. Oh, and she’s agreed to speak to my journalism class at Manhattanville College. In other words, she can do no wrong. Ever.
Jeffpearlman.com offers sun, 85 degrees—and one helluva Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: So Amy, I have a smart father. College educated, open-minded, worldly. And he has an opinion about television meteorologists-namely, that, when a potentially awful storm is coming, they will overstate the potential severity so that, afterward, people won’t say, “Man, 500,000 people without power … and all you said was there’d be some bad rain.” Is there any remote truth to this? Do weather professionals sometimes need to watch their backs?
AMY FREEZE: Tell him to watch Channel 7. We don’t hype. I like to think of the weather message as a “Call to Action” or a “Calming message.” If you don’t need to worry, I’ll tell you. But we do need to pay attention most of the time around here—the weather is crazy in New York City these days. In the past year, we have had two landfall hurricanes—Irene and Sandy. We had two tornadoes touch down in the city limits in Brooklyn and Queens.
And we had a long-path tornado in Great River North on Long Island—that twister was on the ground for 4.5 miles with 85 mph winds! Not to mention the incredible flooding, the hot summer, and the early snowfalls we have had—including the October snowfall in 2011. Basically, if it rains an inch in New York City in less than six hours—there will be some type of flooding there’s just nowhere for the rain to go. If there are winds above 45 mph, there will be power outages—the above-ground power lines are vulnerable to big winds. The science is better than it’s ever been. The seven-day forecast is as good now as the five-day forecast was in 1988. The warning time on tornadoes has gone from five minutes to 13 minutes—20 years ago tornadoes happened without warning 74 percent of the time but now we get at least some type of warning out 69 percent of the time. Bottom line: This is not your father’s weather world, J.P.
I’m a scientist. Not an actor. I work to get it right.
J.P.: I watch the weather, I enjoy the weather, I’ve got nothing but respect for the weather. But I must ask: Save for looks, delivery, wardrobe, age, accent-is there any real difference between what you’ll tell me and what the weather folks at NBC, CBS, Fox, etc tell me? In other words, are there substantial reasons to pick a weather person?
AF: Yes. If they were born with a weather name, like Freeze … maybe that’s too obvious. Your meteorologists should be students of the weather, scientists. They should have a degree and be reviewed by the American Meteorological Society with a seal of approval (it requires tests and a peer review). Every meteorologist at Ch. 7 has an AMS Seal. If your meteorologist has the Certified Broadcast Meteorologist Accreditation from the AMS—that is the top seal available (check). If they have a Master’s Degree from University of Pennsylvania with a research thesis in Storm Water, that’s cool (check.). And remember while weather people are these familiar faces that make you feel good when you wake up or soothe you right before bed. There comes a point when your TV friends must be more than eye candy. When it comes to my property, my commute, my $300 cute boots, and how I dress my kids for school in winter … I want the forecast to be accurate.
J.P.: I’ve long argued that life can be depressingly repetitive. Along those lines, is life as a meteorologist depressingly, depressingly repetitive. Rain today, sun tomorrow, snow the next day, then rain, then sun, temperatures in the 40s today, in the mid 40s tomorrow. I say this with no disdain, but it strikes me as, well, sort of a boring gig. Tell me why I’m wrong.
AF: You watched the movie “The Weather Man” didn’t you? It’s not like “Groundhog Day” either. Having a job that’s different every day is awesome. I’ve lived in several different climates forecasting the weather: the Pacific Northwest with epic ice storms, the Rocky Mountains with huge snowstorms, the Midwest with tornadoes, and the east coast with Nor’easters, extreme heat, wind storms, hurricanes and flooding.
J.P.: So you’ve got a genuinely fascinating background. Indiana born and raised, Mormon, cheerleader at BYU, your husband, Dr. Gary Arbuckle, was Cosmo the Cougar. So many things to ask, but I’m stuck on the Cosmo the Cougar thing. Really, Gary was the cougar? A. What does that even mean? And how did you meet?
A.F.: I was a cheerleader at BYU. Cosmo the Cougar is the BYU mascot—who is part of the cheer squad. Although he denies it, I know he became the mascot to meet cheerleaders. Anyway. He’s 6-foot-5, so he was the tallest mascot ever at the university. He’s an animated guy, very funny … and in college we spent a lot of time together.
The next thing I know, we were married.
J.P.: I know your background, but I don’t know … why. Namely, why become a meteorologist? What led you down this path? When did you decide, “Yes! This is what my life will be!” And is it a passion, or just a cool way to score a paycheck?
A.F.: I was born with the name Freeze. However, I did not grow up wanting to be a weathercaster. I actually studied print journalism, I did two study abroad sessions—one in South Africa and another in Germany. I wanted to write for a newspaper (hint: New York Times, Wall Street Journal) about foreign affairs like NATO, European Union, small factions in Africa and conflicts in remote areas. But as you know because of your extensive research (noted above), I was married at 20 and I needed to get a job to support my husband’s graduate school. No newspaper would hire me in Portland, Oregon where I was living at the time. So, I took a job at TV station as a daily writer. The job expanded and I was doing more work for them as a new morning show launched. A consultant saw me while I was a stand-in for the new studio lights. She suggested I become the hip entertainment reporter (Gasp! Interviewing bands like Everclear was very far off from writing about world affairs!). But I needed the money, and the benefits. I took the job and months later the weatherman had a bypass surgery … who will fill in? “Freeze! That sounds like weather … Get up to the weather deck.” I secretly enrolled in Intro to Meteorology at Portland State University … and I loved the mystery of weather. I would eventually get a second degree in Meteorology and a Master’s Degree at University of Pennsylvania. I guess it was irony, fate, destiny, serendipity and all those fancy terms for what’s meant to be finds a way to happen. So … I love my job, and yes, the paycheck is good, too.
J.P.: I’m not sure if you saw this, but, after a Chiefs linebacker killed his girlfriend, then himself, Bob Costas used his position as a commentator on NBC’s Football Night in America to bemoan the nation’s gun laws. He was ripped to shreds-people saying, “How is this his area to talk about? Why doesn’t he stick to football? Etc … etc.” Along those lines, do meteorologists have a place … perhaps an obligation to speak out and be heard on climate change? And, as someone in the weather business, how concerned are you?
A.F.: Well, Costas is a commentator. He should be able to say whatever he wants, he’s paid to give his opinion, to comment. Funny how we like commentators until we don’t like their opinion. Ha! A lot of people have watched him comment for many topics and I think if it’s under the sports realm, expect him to offer insight. While meteorologists have opinions (even on gun laws) our job is to present science. Beyond forecast numbers, climate change is an indisputable fact and we should know about it. The causes and the degree to which it’s happening are up for discussion. Yes, I think serious meteorologists should speak to peer-reviewed science and present the facts on climate change. They should be a part of the discussion and offer evidence and look for answers based in science. The job of every great scientist is not to know all the answers but to ask the right questions.
J.P.: When I think of TV meteorologists, I consider only that five-minute span when you’re on the tube. But what is your day actually like? When do you start analyzing the weather? What are you looking for? When do you get to the studio? Please break it down for me, Amy.
A.F.: I get up at 6. I run. I get four kids ready and out the door for school. I’m off Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday through Sunday I work at the WABC-TV usually doing special reports on weekdays and weather on the weekends. But I fill in on all shifts so the times I’m working can sometimes be tricky. If it’s an early morning shift we get in about 3:30 am and prepare the forecast and we use the services of Accuweather but we produce our own forecasts. I put on makeup and comb my hair about 30 minutes before air time. I wear a microphone, earpiece for producer talk and I use a garage door clicker to advance the weather graphics. I get about four-to-five minutes of TV time. It’s all ad-lib. No script. I also have a blog called “Freeze Front” and using social media like Facebook and Twitter.com/AmyFreeze7 is part of the job description.
J.P.: I’ve done some TV, and I have many friends who work in the industry. Clearly, it can be v-e-r-y surface and cutthroat. Right now you’re 38, pretty, etc. But do you worry about sticking when you’re …45 … 50 … 55? Will there always be someone who can be had for cheaper, with blonde hair and a perky smile and … well, yeah. And do you think, in the TV news industry, it’s easier for men to age than women?
A.F.: First of all, I’m not dying my hair blond—so mark that off the list. Are you saying I won’t always look this way? I think I look better now than I did at 28. And for sure, I know more. In the information age, correct information is becoming more and more critical. How you look may increasingly fall short to what you know. My beauty regime is to learn more and get smarter. Plus, as part of my world domination plans I do daydream about owning the network in a few years … job security.
J.P.: I’m fascinated by Sandy-not just because we lost power for 10 days, but because I’m guessing it was like your Bar Mitzvah and Christmas rolled into one. What was the experience like for you? As a news person? As a New Yorker?
A.F.: Sandy may seem like the Super Bowl of the weather world. But big storms are not as fun as you might think for forecasters. As dramatic and exciting as it is to see the power of nature unfolding… when it happens at your doorstep, with devastating consequences, it is too scary. Forecasting Sandy was a chance in a lifetime because the computer models were so accurate about the characteristics and track of the storm. Seeing the storm unfold as we stayed on air at WABC for 96-straight hours was gut-wrenching. Telling the storm stories of lives lost and the shoreline changes and people struggling was emotionally draining. But as a New Yorker it was another testament of resilience. As heartbreaking as it is to see a place you love hurt, the pain is quickly replaced with healing. When this city is hit, it gets right back up.
A.F.: The greatest fitness guru of our time, Bill Phillips, had a fitness transformation contest. His challenge: for 12 weeks or 84 days, eat right and exercise 45 minutes, six days a week. Enter the contest with a before and after photo and an essay about how the physical transformation changed you.
Hundreds of thousands of entrants from all over the world. There are horrible before pics and amazing after pics of me that you can Google. I cut my body fat in half, lost 28 pounds and felt amazing. It was empowering to see the power I had to change my body. It’s very liberating to alter your physique—it makes you believe that you can change anything about your life … makes you feel like there are no limits in life. But how did we win a fitness contest based on transformation? We ate right and exercised consistently. Who knew?
• Number of times a year someone asks whether you changed your last name?: Not Enough. Keep asking. On twitter, like 120 tweets this year. #BornThisWay
• Best response you have for, “What’s the weather looking like today?”: Cloudy, chance of Meatballs.
• Have you seen Book of Mormon? And does it offend you?: Have not seen it … but I’ve read the book!
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? Please elaborate: I flew from Philadelphia to Portland with four kids. Longest four hours of my life. One kid puked in his seat. Another peed. Gum in my hair. Soda on my lap. I’ve mentally blocked the rest of that flight.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Michael J. Fox, Nick Gregory, Jim McMahon, onion rings, Conway Twitty, Dead Man Walking, Starkville, Mississippi, long walks on the beach, the Clapper, Ken Phelps, fresh bread, the Storm Water Action Alert Program, Moses, William Weld: The Storm Water Action Alert Program, long walks on the beach, Moses, Michael J. Fox, Nick Gregory, Ken Phelps, fresh bread, Jim McMahon, William Weld, Dead Man Walking, Conway Twitty, onion rings, Starkville, Mississippi, the Clapper.
• My daughter wants to go away for summer camp-she’s nine, it’s seven weeks long. All her cousins go, I want her to stay home. What should I do?: Let her go. I’ll loan you a kid if you get lonely.
• If Jesus Christ floated above your bed—you’re 100% certain it’s him—and says, “Amy, really, the answer is Nuwaubianism!”—would you convert?: I’ll investigate Nuwaubianism.
• Most embarrassing on-camera moment of your career?: Fake laugh while interviewing Tim Allen—it’s a long story.
• Would you rather change your name (officially—for all endeavors) to Pot Smoking Angel of Doom III or spend the next three years barking a solo of Hall & Oates’ “Private Eyes” in Celine Dion’s new Las Vegas show, “Celine Does Oates”?: No. 2 for sure … I have always dreamed of a Vegas career in music.
• Five all-time favorite songs: It’s Raining Men by Weather Girls; Pocket full of Sunshine by Natasha Beddingfield; Rainy Days and Sundays by The Carpenters; The Heat is On by Glenn Fry; Thunder Road by Bruce Springstreen.