A conversation with long-time weather columnist Kevin Myatt
Kevin Myatt has been a weather observer and columnist for the Roanoke Times for nearly two decades. He’s now filling a similar role with Cardinal News – in addition to his “day job” with the communications team at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Radio IQ Meteorologist Nick Gilmore caught up with him to discuss the ins and outs of his career and what he has learned while covering the weather in this region.
Nick Gilmore: What has it been like for you transitioning into this new role?
Kevin Myatt: It’s sort of doing the same thing I’ve been doing for years – just for a different venue. And it’s even a similar time of the week – writing the weekly weather column that used to come out for Wednesday’s paper for the Roanoke Times. Now, it goes on Cardinal News on Wednesday evenings. So, in a lot of ways, it’s not a big change for me moving to Cardinal News with the weather column I’ve been doing for nearly two decades previously. Maybe a few more bells and whistles we’ve added, but for the most part it’s pretty much the same thing that I’ve been doing for a long time – except over a larger region.
NG: Tell me about some of the lessons you’ve learned covering the weather in this part of the world during both your time at the Roanoke Times and now with Cardinal News.
KM: This region’s interesting because we don’t have an extreme climate in any way. We don’t have any features really that would make us extreme. But we do have all four seasons that occasionally push the boundaries of being a little bit extreme. We don’t have severe weather like the Plains states, like the central US, but occasionally we do. We occasionally have some big hail or a tornado or two. We don’t have winter storms like the northern US, like the high mountains of the Rockies or even the high terrain of West Virginia. But we do have, on occasion, large snowstorms that can paralyze highways and such. We don’t have direct influence from tropical systems – we have indirect influence; when they come inland, pour a lot of rain on us, sometimes spin up some wind or a tornado or two. So, this is a good region to have kind of a Whitman Sampler, if you will, of weather without very often having just an overwhelming event that is really devastating.
NG: Can you talk to me about weather communication? Like, the science of meteorology has gotten pretty good, but what struggles do we have still in trying to communicate that information?
During his time as a weather columnist, Myatt says his headlines that contain the word “snow” always garner significant buzz. He muses that’s because the fluffy, white stuff is one of the few weather events that impact an entire region. You can have a devastating tornado or hail storm, but those things typically impact distinct areas, whereas snow casts a much wider blanket.
As far as this year goes, Myatt talked about La Nina conditions when we chatted for this newsletter last month. Those tend to lead to warmer, drier winters for us.
However, when I pressed him...
“My gut feeling right now based just looking at how weather has developed this fall – we may be a little bit snowier, colder than the La Nina forecast would lead. I think there may be some indication we’re getting the kind of patterns in the fall – the pattern around Hurricane Ian for instance, the pattern that we’ve had here around Halloween where we’ve had the cold air damming banked in against the mountains and moist system moving in – those would be potential winter storm patterns two months later.”
KM: Well, one of the problems – it’s a blessing and it’s a problem – is just how many sources you can go to now through social media, traditional media; it can seem like a Tower of Babel sometimes. Sorting out what are trusted sources and what are kind of edgy, not really straight forward sources to speak diplomatically – that can be a challenge for anybody. I think almost all of us have been snookered at one time or another by retweeting a false piece of information or a false picture – I know I have a couple of times retweeted a photo that turned out to be a fake. Or, a lot of times the fake photos we see on social media, they are photos that really are real of a weather event, but not the weather event that’s occurring that day.
So, just having this cacophony of voices is a challenge. Also, along with that, we’re finding more and more that a lot of people, especially with Weather Service warnings or warnings that go through television and interrupt their football game or favorite show – a lot of people don’t want to have that information even when it’s potentially life-saving information.
NG: Have you have had times when you really felt like you nailed your column? Were there times you didn’t feel that way?
KM: One of the things that I always go back to is about 10:30 in the morning on June 29, 2012, I actually use the word “derecho” in a weather blog update online. It wasn’t like, “We’re gonna have a derecho!” But, it was describing what might happen that evening with the squall line that was still uncertain at that point coming down from the Great Lakes region. I mentioned that these are sometimes called “derechos.” Little did I know that almost 12 hours later that word would enter our everyday lexicon for everybody around.
Tracking that one, tracking the big winter storms in ’09, one in 2014, the one in 2018 – the big foot plus kind of jobs; those have been some of the successes. I think I’ve been ahead of the curve on some of those and alerted people early.
We all have busts – busts come with weather. Even just a couple years ago, we had a Winter Storm Warning that this dry slot formed right over Roanoke, the Blue Ridge, so we got minimal amounts here. It was four or more over towards Blacksburg and New River Valley, but over this way it was a big bust. Some of those sometimes can be frustrating.
NG: What did you learn from those experiences?
KM: Just the need to really first of all, just to learn more and more about our peculiarities with the weather in our region – the things that are unique that happen here that may not happen other places. Moving from Arkansas – eastern Arkansas is relatively flat, sort of like the plains – to here and learning the mountain weather was a big challenge for me in the early years. But, also just making sure when you look at the weather maps to always look for the oddball, the outlier type things that might happen – it’s always good to mention those even if you don’t think that’s really what’s going to happen.
And I think over the years, that approach – people do appreciate that. I always try to mention not just the deterministic, “this is what’s going happen or what we think is going to happen” forecast. But also “this is what might happen if these factors are toggled a little bit.” And a lot of times it’s one of those things that does end up happening as the weather develops.
NG: What are you hoping to accomplish in this new role?
KM: In some ways it’s a continuation of what I have done. The main thing is, I just want to continue enlightening and educating the public about meteorology, about weather specific to southwest and southside Virginia – this region particularly. And in a broader sense, Virginia, the Appalachians, the mid-Atlantic. And just continue to do that in ways that neither talk down to people nor talk over their heads. There are a lot of fields that I’m not an expert in and you always know when what you’re reading about it is on target if it explains it to you but you don’t feel like you’re being talked down to – that’s the goal.
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