Initially, Greg Forbes developed an interest in science. Then came the desire to save lives.
That combination led the Cobb County resident to a prestigious career as a meteorology instructor and researcher, then to 20 years of high-profile, on-camera heavy storming professionalism for the Atlanta-based Weather Channel. On days when severe weather threatened destruction, Forbes provided an intimate and reassuring presence to millions of viewers.
The Latrobe, Pennsylvania native is now retired after guiding nervous viewers through most of the major storms since 1999. But he is still advising and – as expected – regularly checking the forecast.
Atlanta Senior Life recently met him on the phone.
Q. Can you tell us something about your path that led you to national television?
A. In eighth grade, our science teacher was teaching a module on meteorology, and I thought that was pretty cool. When I was shown that meteorology was a real science, and not the fools – who were sometimes Bozo the Clown or whatever – who rule the weather, I thought it was something that would work for me.
I went to school at Penn State, got my bachelor’s degree, and heard about the pioneering work of Dr. Ted Fujita at the University of Chicago. I was there from the fall of 1972.
I had never planned to become a TV meteorologist. I went to the University of Chicago to do my Masters and become a forecaster at what is known as the Storm Prediction Center. [The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service scientific agency that forecasts severe storms and tornadoes and issues watches)
Q. You were at Penn State from 1978 until 1999, teaching severe weather and a variety of other topics. Can you draw a line on what led you from there to The Weather Channel in Atlanta?
A, I left Penn State because I got an offer from The Weather Channel. I figured at that age that that was going to be my only chance to go be an operational severe weather forecaster and save some lives. I decided I would take the opportunity even though it meant being on television.
Q. At The Weather Channel, you both prepared forecasts and researched behind the scenes and went on the air to warn of potential severe outbreaks before guiding viewers through them. Whatâs the number one severe weather event you covered?
A. I would probably have to name as number one being on the air for what we now call the super outbreak of 2011.That had so many violent tornadoes going on all at once. Just about every [severe storm] produced a strong or violent tornado and some of them long-track. One of them, well known, formed southwest of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and met part of that community and then haunted all the way to parts of the greater Birmingham area. In Birmingham, shingles from Tuscaloosa was thrown from the sky 10 to 15 minutes earlier.
Q. What’s it like to be on the air for something like this? You said there were days when you put in 10 or more hours straight.
A A lot of adrenaline comes into play these days. I don’t get tired that easily. [There are] Tornado outbreaks that have constant tornadoes, so many that you can barely keep up with them. I would try to find the five or six that I thought were either the most dangerous in terms of the communities they would impact or the ones that looked most dangerous on the radar and talk about them .
Q. You were involved in redesigning one of the most important tools in modern meteorology, the Fujita scale, which measures tornado damage. But you also dealt with other topics that have found concrete application in our part of the country. Can you talk about it?
A. I was doing research in Penn State on ice storms and a phenomenon we call cold air congestion. A wedge of cold air is trapped there east of the Appalachians. This can sometimes lead to ice storms and unusually cold weather as far as the Atlanta area. I was involved in some of the early documentation and analysis of what these were and what caused them.
Q. Do you think the public has learned more about the weather over the course of your career?
A. I think a lot of the public has become more weather savvy. One thing that changed from my college days to my years of retirement is that numerical models and other methods of analyzing weather have improved. In the 1970s, the public was very skeptical of the forecast. The public now has high expectations of the accuracy of the forecast.
Q. What do you think about when you retire?
A. I do a hike on one of the nature trails every day unless it is raining. I also have a basement full of books. I am a part time online used bookseller.
F. One more thing. I heard that during your years at The Weather Channel you were nicknamed “Stormmaster G”. How did this happen?
A. Weather Channel producer David Waller gave me this nickname early in my TWC career. One of the EVPs (Executive Vice Presidents) actually had two rap videos made – one about me and one where I apparently did some rap moves. They picked me up with my arms in various positions and then worked it on for continuous movement.