There is beauty in the storm. The way the cloud colors morph from light gray to harsh black, over electric green marsh grass. Slug-sized raindrops hit the ground with force, as strong gusts send leaves dancing across slick pavement. The crackle of thunder and the way lightning touches down to illuminate the sky can make even grown men cower with its abrupt intensity.
While these natural wonders sometimes send our pets running for cover and interrupt our beach plans, they provide a balance nonetheless. Two men dedicated to tracking the Lowcountry’s weather patterns and making sure we know when to leave the house with umbrella in tow are meteorologists Rob Fowler and Bill Walsh. Their careers have been filled with hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and plenty of sunshine. We chatted with the two about industry accolades, the upcoming hurricane season and what they love most about reporting on heat waves, typhoons and everything in between.
Rob Fowler is the chief meteorologist at Channel 2. His curiosity about weather was sparked early. At the age of 5, he found himself in New Orleans in the midst of 1965’s Hurricane Betsy, where intense flooding forced his family to flee to his grandparents’ home. While most children would be frightened by howling winds and sandbagged streets, Fowler found himself riding a wave of excitement – eager to see what would happen next.
“My grandparents gave me a job that night and that was to try and keep the water out of the house by putting dry towels under the door,” said Fowler. “This is a memory that is still very vivid and fresh in my mind some 52 years later! That night, I knew I wanted to learn more about how hurricanes work and how the weather works in general.”
What followed was a lasting career in both television and radio, sprinkled with awards. Always a credible source for delivering up-to-date information, Fowler weighed in on what lies ahead.
“In an average year, we can expect 12 named storms, with six of those becoming hurricanes and three major hurricanes,” said Fowler. “The latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast predicts a range of 11 to 17 tropical storms, five to nine hurricanes, with two to four major hurricanes.”
In addition to having a family emergency plan and making sure you are stocked up on bottled water, flashlights, candles and nonperishable food, Fowler encouraged residents to keep electronics charged in order to stay up-to-date on the latest alerts.
Bill Walsh’s career is about as varied as the weather he covers. From having a brief stint on the daytime drama “The Young and the Restless” to being a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, complete with missions to Iraq and Afghanistan, this Emmy-award winner has always been one for adventure. While reporting has taken him to Italy, Israel and South America, Walsh finds great joy in covering weather in the Lowcountry.
“Being able to be there for people during severe weather and hurricanes and becoming part of their lives is greatly rewarding,” said Walsh. “Being part of Live 5 News and carrying the torch of the late great Charlie Hall is an honor I take very seriously.”
“I have always been interested in weather since getting my pilot’s license at age 16,” Walsh added. “I used to watch the local weatherman on WJAR Channel 10 in Providence, Rhode Island, and aspired to do the same. Ironically, I ended up working for him doing weekends on WLNE before moving to South Carolina in the ’80s.”
While Fowler and Walsh have had slightly different career paths, they both had a front-row-seat to the storm of the century that wreaked havoc on the Lowcountry in September of 1989.
“I always tell people Hugo was an experience that I will never forget,” said Fowler, whose efforts during that storm earned him National Weather Association Meteorologist of the Year honors. “It taught me so much about what a hurricane can do in such a short amount of time and also taught me how to cover and forecast a storm with such intensity and how what you say and how you say it are so vital to your audience.”
Walsh also had the responsibility and the opportunity to alert viewers about the Lowcountry’s most notorious weather event.
“Covering Hugo was like no other storm, especially for a young guy with only three years in the market,” said Walsh. “We had to cover the storm and evacuate the television station at the same time. It was a very dangerous storm and kept intensifying right up until landfall. We were a smaller television operation. I was at WCIV at the time, and our job was to alert people to the danger and hopefully save lives knowing a 10- to 20-foot storm surge was on the way.”
Both men enjoy discussing the dynamics of storms to enthused students, and perhaps they see a bit of themselves in those curious youngsters eager to learn about quarter-sized hail and tsunamis.
“I love talking to kids about weather in the schools and seeing their eyes light up when we talk about hurricanes and tornadoes,” said Fowler. “It’s such an interesting subject, and I really enjoy being a part of it. I also feel it’s important for us to be a part of the community and help charities and nonprofits with raising awareness and funds.”
In addition to delivering the weather, Walsh delivers action-packed literary gems. In the vein of Tom Clancy, his novels have received rave reviews from fans and critics alike. His first two full-length novels, “The Umbrella Option” and “Red Carpet Ransom,” follow the thrilling journey of Homeland Security Agent Jake Stein as he deals with drug cartels and high-profile kidnappings.
“I am working on a third novel right now called ‘Black Duck,’” said Walsh. “It’s set in 1929 and is a novel based on real characters who were bootleggers moving illegal liquor up and down the East Coast from Canada. One of the characters is my real life great uncle who was part of what was called The Combine – an organized crime operation made up of Northeastern mobsters.”
He’s also writing a book filled with real-life celebrity interviews and hopes it will hit bookstore shelves soon.
From reporting from the comfort of TV station studios, in front of green screens, to hitting the town in rain boots to present up-to-the minute, on-the-scene action, Fowler and Walsh continue to wow viewers with their dedication to the job.
They battle face-stinging, sideways rain and 120 mph winds, all to keep the public informed, safe and, as always, above water.
By Kalene McCort.
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