Weather is a passion for America's Wittiest Weatherman
ELLIOT ABRAMS bought his house for the view outside the back windows.
It's a nice enough view - all green grass (or snow, lately), distant shrubbery and sky as far as the eye can see.
But video cameras stand on tripods ready to record the action, as if a chorus line of celebrities might at any time tap-dance across the horizon.
Instead, Abrams is looking for littler things. He documents the drama that unfolds in the sky whenever the wind picks up, the clouds collect or the snowflakes start swirling. Even sunny skies that do nothing more than darken as dusk falls can fascinate him.
Such weather worship is a work prerequisite for Abrams, the chief forecaster and senior vice president at AccuWeather.
His folksy voice is the one you hear every morning delivering weather reports on KYW (1060-AM) radio. Now in his fifth decade at AccuWeather, the 66-year-old meteorologist is so well-known to radio listeners that the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia named him to their Hall of Fame in 2009.
But for Abrams, the weather has always been as much a personal passion as a career choice.
At restaurants, he doodles isobars and maps on the paper place mats. On trips, if the weather sours, he hurries to hit the road home - not to dodge danger, but to participate in the forecasting. In his spare time, he studies past weather and its effects on historic events; he'll soon talk to grandson Jacob's fifth-grade class about how icy weather helped American troops defeat the British during the Revolutionary War battles of Trenton and Princeton.
And those videos of the skies over his back yard? He has dozens stored on his computer, many of which he's accelerated like cinematic bursts of applause for Mother Nature's grandeur. Sometimes, he'll post them on AccuWeather's website or his social-media profiles. Just as often, he just keeps them to himself.
He never tires of the weather.
He traces his passion for all things meteorological to his childhood.
He was born at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital during a thunderstorm. When he was 5, his father, a research chemist, made him a barometer to watch the weather outside their East Mount Airy rowhouse. He loved checking the weather line, WE6-1212, and phoning his grandmother afterward to report the day's weather outlook.
In second grade, he got cast as a weatherman in his class play. "By fourth grade, I was blamed for rainy weekends," he said. And by high school (Central High, class of 1965), he posted weather reports on the bulletin board.
"I didn't realize at the time how extremely nerdy that was," said Abrams, whose fellow Boy Scouts nicknamed him "Wally" because of his devotion to famed Philly forecaster Wally Kinnan.
After studying meteorology at Penn State, he joined AccuWeather in 1967, cofounding its radio service in 1971.
He now delivers weather reports to radio listeners in more than a dozen cities including Philly, Boston, Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Kalamazoo, Mich.
All claim him as theirs, unaware that he lives and works just a few miles from Penn State.
At a time when many meteorologists try to out-science one another with their Super-Quadruple Doppler Ten Trillions, Abrams has won fans by sticking to the basics and not inciting panic.
"He doesn't talk about 'occluded fronts' and throw out crazy jargon," said CBS3 meteorologist Kate Bilo, who worked with Abrams at AccuWeather for six years before she moved to Philly in 2010. "He gives the weather and useful information in a way people can understand, and probably a couple giggles right along with it."
Those giggles are what earned Abrams the nicknames "America's Wittiest Weatherman" and "Bard of the Barometer."
Abrams has such a penchant for puns that he rarely broadcasts without some witty wordplay. He keeps track of events and anniversaries both obvious and obscure, writing themed forecasts brimming with quips.
"I like that he jokes around," said Gerry Wilkinson, board chairman of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia. "He's the kind of guy I'd love to have living next door to me. He's really a fun guy."
On Twitter, he once alerted his followers to watch for a "comet over the coastline" by posting clip-art of a can of Comet cleanser floating over three bars of Coast soap.
"He's obviously the most clever metrologist that I've worked with," said NBC10 meteorologist Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz, who worked with Abrams at AccuWeather in the 1970s. "He always has ideas about how to explain things in an interesting and entertaining way, and he obviously loves what he does, especially in order to work that horrible early-morning shift as many decades as he has."
Abrams' day starts at 2:30 a.m., when he wakes up and takes his dog Sam out for a walk. Sam gives Abrams his first not-so-scientific idea of what the day holds.
"Sam's an American Eskimo dog," Abrams said. "For each degree below 20, he likes to spend an extra 10 seconds outside. He figures, 'I got all this fur, why not use it?' "
An hour later, Abrams is sitting inside his crammed broadcasting booth at AccuWeather, posting computer models and analyzing maps of North America. He also huddles with co-workers, using a consensus strategy for forecasts - with frequent weather-map and social-media checks throughout the morning to tweak weather reports as changes occur.
Most of his broadcasts are on the radio, but he also does webcasts and maintains a Twitter feed, a Facebook page and other media.
His workday ends by the time most other folks eat lunch, but he doesn't mind his wee-hour shift. It gives him plenty of time to hang with his wife of 44 years, Bonnie, exercise and download music (a sample of what's on his iPod now: Jennifer Lopez, Tamar Braxton, Carrie Underwood and Christina Perri).
His weather love has proved contagious.
His son Mike, now 41, remembers sleepily sitting beside his dad on snowy weekday mornings, reading printouts of precipitation and temperature data - and knowing even before the school district's call whether school would be in session that day.
"When there were thunderstorms when we were little, everybody else would go inside. We would open the garage door and stand at the edge. He would tell us about cold air going this way and warm air going that way; he liked to narrate the weather," even if it was just his family listening, Mike Abrams said.
Abrams often incorporated his two sons in his forecasts, Mike added. On Groundhog Day, when his father "interviewed" the groundhog, he or his brother Randy would voice the furry forecaster on the radio, Mike said.
"He always wanted us to be part of it," Mike added.
Abrams has no answer when asked what it is about the weather that hooks him.
But he does have a joke: "As a kid, I could sit by the window and watch the snow fall for a couple hours. My dad would come over and say, 'Why are you watching the snow fall from the window? You can see the same flakes if you go out and shovel.' "
On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo