Meteorologist floods forecasts with weather puns

October 7, 2012 

Longtime meteorologist Elliot Abrams usually has a high chance of weather puns mixed with a sunny wit.

Abrams, 65, of Patton Township, has made humorous, themed radio forecasts his calling card. As the chief forecaster and senior vice president for Ferguson Township-based AccuWeather, where he has worked since 1967, Abrams entertains local and distant listeners every morning from a tiny studio, calling stations around the state, the Midwest and the Northeast. He also writes a weather blog.

One colleague has called him the “Bard of the Barometer.” Another labeled him the “poet laureate of AccuWeather.” But the Philadelphia native, Penn State graduate and married father of two grown sons doesn’t hold himself in such lofty regard. He’s just a guy still fascinated after all the years with the weather above — and the linguistic depths he can plumb to predict it.

How do you come up with your puns?

They just flow. I don’t know. It’s a disease, I think.

How did you first become interested in the weather?

I guess I became interested in the weather when I was 5. My dad was a chemist, and he built a barometer, which was actually a mercury barometer, which could have been poisonous. Actually, it was poisonous, but at the time, who knew? That was in the house. And I was a weatherman in a class play in the second grade. I’ve found this: You go out and ask any of the meteorologists who work here when they became interested, and many of them will say between age 5 and 10. It’s weird. It’s like a birth defect, really. I mean, when you know what you’re going to be when you’re 5? When our kids were growing up, even when they got to high school, it was: “Dad, you knew what you were going to be. We don’t know what we’re going to be. Are we in trouble?” I said, “No, that’s great. You’re normal.”

Is it true that you posted weather forecasts in school?

Yeah, I was the equivalent of geek back then, I guess, because I did a weather map every day and posted it outside the lunchroom. I’m surprised it never got defaced.

What was it about weather that fascinated you?

I just liked looking at the sky and what was going on, trying to figure out what it was doing. I read somewhere that only a small percentage of people, as they’re walking around, actually look more up than straight ahead or down. Of course, there’s even less now because of cell phones. I mean, that’s going to be the new carpal neck syndrome, people walking around looking down at their phones.

That probably distinguishes meteorologists at an early age, that you’re interested in what’s going on.

Maybe astronomers too. Of course, they’re out of this world.

What you’re known for, and do so well, is incorporate wordplay and puns into your forecasts and make them fun. How did start?

I’m not quite sure, but it started somewhere in the early to mid-’70s. I started doing topics. It turns out there’s a little pamphlet that I subscribe to that has all the famous dates, this pamphlet called “Chase’s Calendar of Events.” And so today ... the little-known celebration today, and it remains unknown, is the Virginia Peanut Festival. So I was pointing out ... like in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states, today would be warm enough for the beechnuts, but it’s way too early to take your stash of winter clothes and pistachio away for the season. Some people are nuts about different kinds of weather. I decided to take questions from some of our readers about what’s going to happen. Hazel from Los Angeles asked if the rainy season’s over. The answer is: Hazel, not yet. You’ll be shelled by a period of rain and gusty winds this weekend. ... Of course, the roads don’t have to be salted now. I also talked about how some research is being done on peanuts in Virginia, and most of that’s done in the halls of macadamia. ... This one was on [local station] WRSC with (radio host) Kevin Nelson. He’s pretty good. He puts up with it, which I’m sure is painful to him. But he’s been great to me ever since he’s been on and we’ve done the schtick with the weather.

I always say that the reason I like doing that is you can’t tell if the forecast is wrong, if I’m talking that way. Although on a day when the weather could hurt or kill somebody, we want to be more serious about it, because the first thing we want to do is make sure we protect people, if we can, from what can happen.

I understand you have an eclectic taste in music. Does your interest in hip hop and other kinds come from your love of words?

Growing up in Philadelphia, I used to listen to the urban stations in the ’60s. So I’ve always listened to that kind of music. I like following some of the singers, like the rapper Nas. He used to be quite a radical and yet now he has turned out to be writing almost responsible songs. ... one called “Daughters,” for example. ... When I gave a talk at the American Meteorological Society conference in Boston, for broadcasting, I actually started with a music video from (country singer) Carrie Underwood. ... It’s a perfect weather video. I always listen for lyrics. Like there’s a song “Summer Rain” (by Belinda Carlisle). It’s a dance genre song, but one of the lyrics is “And his kisses hotter than the Santa Ana winds.” Very few references to Santa Ana winds in music.

You have those whimsical forecasts, but often they’re straight too. After doing this for so many years, how do you decide to play it straight?

If it’s a big change coming, like it’s sunny in the morning and going to rain in the afternoon, or if it’s raining first thing or snowing and it’s going to stop, or what might be happening at the (Penn State football) game this weekend, something like that. If weather is an important topic. Or if something really bad is happening, like on a day when tornadoes have killed a bunch of people, you don’t want to be making light of it at that point.

I don’t know if you realize that September is Be Kind to Writers and Editors Month.

I was not aware of that.

It says so in here [in this forecast]. So individuals have to worry about parts of speech and elements of style, because author-wise, people will accuse them of writing syllable, and the writer will diacritical death. And we must choose our words carefully in the weather business. Why? Because we want to be write when we say what to wear when and how.

Later this week, low level air will be coming from the north, so it will be cool by definition. That part is simple. What makes us tense is deciding whether an area of showers with a cold front Thursday will run on and dash past us, or if instead we have to give you a footnote and say you might need shoe protection against showers. We don’t want to hyphen the idea it’ll rain just to adverbs. But, the forecast wouldn’t be very phrase-worthy if we put the accent on sunshine and it turns out rainy for a period. One meteorologist said he felt a pronounced tendency to feel tense before he gave the forecast, then he felt better enunciate breakfast.

What’s the fun of doing this for you?

I don’t know. People just seem to like it. And so I guess you tend to do what pleases people and tend to keep away from what doesn’t.

Is it fun for you?

It is, yeah. These things I write I keep on file, and then I have to .. each one is different because the weather changes all the time, and so I have to rewrite it on the day in question.

Do you have pieces that stand out for you?

The one I guess that really got me onto this was when I had done one for Thanksgiving for a station in Baltimore, and a week or two later — maybe a month later — I got a letter with a check in it from Reader’s Digest. A listener had sent it in and they published it and sent me a $50 check for it. It’s probably the only writing I’ve ever done of that sort.

When was that?

That was in 1976, I think.

What impact did that have on you?

Well, just that it encouraged me to do that kind of stuff, so I have my annual Thanksgiving forecast now. I have it somewhere here.

While you’re looking, was one of your parents a teacher?

My mom was an English teacher.

Did she influence your writing?

My dad had a sort of a punny sense of humor, although as an organic chemist, it didn’t surface that much. But she always worried about the way I wrote for school papers and things like that. ... There’s actually been a theatrical performance based on puns, that’s been written. It’s a play on words.

I walked right into that one.

I wrote that a few weeks ago. This one (the annual Thanksgiving forecast) here is: Turkeys will finish thawing Thanksgiving, then warm in the oven to a high near 190 in the afternoon. The kitchen will turn hot and humid, and if you bother the cook, be ready for a severe squall or a cold shoulder.

Then during the late afternoon and early evening hours, the cold front of a knife will slice through the turkey and cause accumulations of 1-2 inches on plates. Mashed potatoes will drift across one side while cranberry sauce creates slippery spots on the other, especially if it mixes in with the green bean casserole. Please pass the gravy. A weight watch has been issued for the entire area and we expect intervals of indigestion, with increasing stuffiness around the beltway.

During the evening the turkey will diminish and taper off to leftovers and drop to a low of 34 in the refrigerator. Looking ahead to Friday and Saturday, high pressure to eat sandwiches; flurries of leftovers can be expected both days with a 50 percent chance of scattered soup during the midday hours. We expect a warming trend baste on where soup develops. For AccuTurkey, this is gobble-ologist Elliot Abrams.

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