Dr. Rick Knabb, the former Director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, FL, is coming back to The Weather Channel just in time for hurricane season! Here’s your chance to get familiar with Dr. Knabb since you’ll be seeing him a lot the next few months.
You’re not a total stranger to The Weather Channel. Tell us about your history with us.
I grew up watching The Weather Channel and John Hope, the hurricane expert back in the day, as a kid. I religiously watched it at :50 past the hour, like an appointment that I couldn’t miss. Professionally, I first interacted with The Weather Channel through TV interviews when I was a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in the 2000’s. During 2010, I came on board as a Hurricane Expert and was here until 2012. Now I’m back five years later!
What’s the most valuable thing you learned being the Director of the National Hurricane Center?
I can’t help but answer that question any other way but to ask myself what’s most valuable that WE all learned. I never approached that job in terms of doing it myself. It was always “what could we do as a community to be more hurricane resilient?” Hurricane resilience starts way before a hurricane is out there. You have to ask yourself what you can do to get yourself, your home, and your family prepared before it happens. I will forever try to get it in people’s minds that it isn’t just about the forecast- you have to be ready no matter what.
Was there anything you were working on as your time as Director that you’ll be able to use at The Weather Channel this hurricane season?
Yes, a lot! One of the most exciting things about being back here is that I’ll get to use tools for effective communication that I got to work on the last few years at the National Hurricane Center. There are three major things making their debut from the NHC I’ll utilize here. An updated forecast map with an easy-to-understand forecast cone, the storm surge watch and warnings, and the wind timing products will help convey to people how much time they have left to prepare before a hurricane approaches. It’s perfect timing for me to be on communication end of all of this.
What initially sparked your passion for weather?
I can’t remember a time in my life I wasn’t interested in weather! The earliest memory I have is growing up in south Florida in 1970s and having a hurricane threat. I remember watching the director of National Hurricane Center and sharing his fascination with the weather. But it also scared me! I knew he was giving us information to keep us safe, but for kid it’s a scary thing. I completely identified with the science of weather and wanting to warn people about the dangers. I remember saying, “I want to do his job someday.” I got there eventually, and I got to do cool things along the way to that job, like working at The Weather Channel for the 2 years prior. Now I get to have the job of communicating weather to the public, so I’m just fortunate to have done so many rewarding things in my career. Five years as Director at the NHC was very demanding. I’m very glad I did it, but it was time to move on to the next thing. This job is it, without a doubt. This is the perfect time for me to be making this transition! What was developed at the NHC the past few years is in desperate need for effective communication, which will be my main role here.
Walk us through your educational journey to becoming Dr. Knabb.
I always enjoyed science and math classes in school. It fed my fascination with weather. Although I didn’t like speech/communications classes, looking back I now realize how important they were. What good is a forecast if it’s not effectively communicated? When I started looking for a good meteorology program, because of my Midwestern roots, Purdue was an obvious choice (my parents really wanted me to go to a Big 10 school). I received a scholarship my freshman year and during my time as an undergrad there I met my wife. We both graduated and then I had to decide on whether I wanted to pursue graduate school or not. I decided to do it so I’d never run into a door I couldn’t open because of my level of education. I didn’t want any obstacles to stop me. I received my masters and PhD in tropical meteorology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL and did some Post-Doctorate work at the University of Hawaii. Hawaii was the start of my career, and it was perfect because I wanted to work and live in the tropics.
What’s something unique that you’ll bring to The Weather Channel?
The fact that I’ve been in both the forecasting and the emergency management decision support aspects of hurricanes. I’m gonna know what the interplay is and can effectively explain why the public is being told what they’re being told. I also think I’ll help give the public the confidence that the information is worth following. Explaining the “why” can help people get past their own decision challenges.
If you could only have one piece of weather data, what would you choose and why?
GOES satellite imagery. It’s the bread and butter of hurricane satellite imagery. The first satellite images from space over tropical oceans completely changed hurricane monitoring and forecasting. Certainly pre-satellite imagery there were data sources to detect hurricanes, but satellites revolutionized it. To this day if I had ten seconds on the air and only one piece of data, I’d show the satellite picture. That way you can motivate people and show it’s real and out there. Without satellite, we’d be more hindered than the loss of any other data.
What’s your favorite season?
Hurricane season. If you grew up in Florida you know there’s really only two seasons: hurricane season and not hurricane season.
What hobbies or interests are you passionate about?
Being in the ocean and at beach as much as possible, but that’s when I’m wanting to chill out. In terms of an ongoing pursued passion, I’d say technology programming. My 12-year-old son and I spend a lot of time programming together. I think my ideal day would involve my son and I sitting at beach sitting with our laptops, programming. Being at the beach can really help you concentrate, so I tend to work best when I’m there!
What’s your favorite weather phenomenon?
A major hurricane. One that has a very well defined eye, looks like its literally breathing, and has a personality.
What’s your favorite weather memory?
When a major hurricane was approaching Florida and completely missed where I lived. I was relieved the next day when my house was fine and trees weren’t blown down. That was when I really wanted to find out what makes hurricanes tick, so I can know if it’s coming or not.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I used to have long hair, but fortunately social media wasn’t around to prove it.
What have you noticed at The Weather Channel these past few weeks that our We Love Weather members would be interested to know?
Personally, I’m interested to know how the augmented reality gets done! And what could we brainstorm about what we can do with that technology. What do people want to see us create? Extreme weather doesn’t happen where you live often, but it’s a lot safer to experience it via augmented reality so we know what were really dealing with. This technology gives us the opportunity to become more prepared. We can use it to get a clear picture and get more connected with what the atmosphere is really capable of without having to die in it to figure it out.
What are you most looking forward to with this position at The Weather Channel?
I think the direct 2-way connection with the public is what I’m most looking forward to. Especially with all the different platforms. Through the We Love Weather forums I’ll to get to know folks, which is great because I want people to know I care about them. I want to be accessible through a variety of ways to the public. Hurricanes are personal, its not just about a forecast and showing some graphics on TV, it’s about feeding people’s fascination and keeping them safe.
Do you have any preliminary predictions or thoughts on the upcoming hurricane season?
There will be hurricanes and if just one comes to your town, it’ll be a bad year for you. You can’t tell yourself you’re off the hook for a hurricane if you’re in a hurricane-prone area this year. Nobody knows in May what will happen where you live over the hurricane season. If your area has a hurricane problem, prepare ahead of time and don’t just hope the hurricane problem away. Be hurricane strong, and don’t let them dictate your safety.
If you have any questions or well wishes for Dr. Knabb, please post them in the comment section below!