Erie weatherman talks at Community Center

Tom Atkins began his career as a weatherman at a tender age.

He said, “My parents bought me a weather station when I was seven years old. It measured rain, wind and everything.”

He added, “It was all I ever wanted to do.”

Atkins spoke Wednesday to about 70 people at the Allegheny Community Center in Warren about how being a weatherman on television has changed over the years, when in the early days weather and news broadcasts consisted of about one and a half hours a day. Today’s local news coverage is six hours a day, bringing more local news than networks like CNN and ABC can.

He added, “There is a lot more interaction, more feedback through social websites like Facebook and Twitter, and viewers can and do email, snail mail, and phone” with comments and suggestions.

Atkins opined, “Weather is like politics there’s always something to gripe about.”

He talked about his fellow newscasters, anchors Sean Lafferty, Jill McCormick and sports anchor Craig Smiley, saying viewers never ask them to drop the price of gas or make the Steelers win the Super Bowl, but they will ask him, “Why can’t you make it warm like last winter?”

He made a decision last year to interrupt programming on two consecutive nights for a severe weather alert. He said the first night the finals of “Dancing with the Stars”, he broke into Kristie Alley’s last dance, and the second night he interrupted “American Idol” and “People were screaming at me, ‘This is stupid, Tom,’ and I replied ‘No, this is a tornado.'”

He said, “Somehow it still takes people by surprise that it snows in winter.” A Facebook post from a man suggested a new meteorological term “A buttload of snow.”

During a question and answer period, an audience member wanted to know what he does when the graphics don’t work. He replied, “Don’t take offence, but the graphic system is like a beautiful woman with no brains. It’s pretty on the outside, but it makes me work so hard.”

A female member of the audience said, “You’re better looking (than on TV)” and he answered, “Thank God.”

The questions turned to the serious side: severe weather and tornadoes.

Atkins explained, “All tornadoes come from thunderstorms, super cells that look like broccoli and cauliflowers, with clouds that reach 60 to 70 thousand feet.”

When asked about the seemingly increased frequency of tornadoes Atkins said that with more cameras, phones and videos they are reported more frequently.

Atkins also emphasized personal safety during dangerous weather, to take cover in basements or interior spaces with as many walls as possible between people and the approaching weather. He added, “Even a blanket can help, as most people (killed by storms ) are killed by flying debris not walls, but by two-by-fours.”

Someone asked what if you are in a trailer, he answered, “Get out. Go someplace else.”