After more than five decades of delivering weather information — along with his trademark humor and wit — to homes and businesses, AccuWeather senior vice president and chief meteorologist Elliot Abrams is retiring from full-time broadcasting.
Friday marked his last day.
He was the first employee hired by founder Joel Myers at the Ferguson Township-based weather media company nearly 52 years ago. Myers credited Abrams with helping to make weather forecasts more accessible and understandable, and helping to make AccuWeather a trusted brand when the forecasting industry was still young.
“I’m so grateful that Elliot first accepted my initial offer to work for AccuWeather,” Myers told the Centre Daily Times. “He took a chance that I would follow through and be successful at what was not obvious at all in developing a business that competed for free, so I’m very grateful for that.”
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In the early days -- he was first hired in 1967 -- Abrams worked for AccuWeather part-time while pursuing his undergraduate degree in meteorology at Penn State. Abrams began his career calling forecasts mainly for ski areas, natural gas companies and cities and counties.
Myers said he knew from the start that Abrams — with his humor and “sixth sense” about weather — was the guy he wanted to help grow AccuWeather’s network of participating radio stations throughout the 1970s. The private firm now supplies weather data to a broad international clientele, including companies in media and transportation and other entities.
“I made a bet on him because I could see that he was creative with his ideas, but also he was an excellent weather forecaster,” Myers said. “Having that sixth sense and that insight and that ability to understand that pattern recognition and how the patterns will evolve -- the better you can do that, the more accurate the forecasts can be.”
Over five decades, Abrams has seen evolution both in meteorology and in the way information is gathered, processed and communicated. AccuWeather began before the days of satellite and radar loops, so if you wanted to see a radar picture, you had to dial a number to receive a 3-by-5- or 4-by-4-inch picture over a fax machine, Abrams said.
By the time the meteorologists got it, the information was about 10 to 15 minutes out of date. It cost $2 for each photo.
To try for a competitive edge, Abrams and Myers began taking data from the facsimile photos and plotting them on a map, rather than waiting for the big map to come through. That let them read the patterns and predict the full picture before anybody else, Myers said.
“Even today, that slight edge can be very important,” Abrams said. “Let’s say we have a particular forecast out at 7:45 a.m. and the next computer models might come in the next couple of hours. We also know, however, that upper air observations, to get a 3-D view of the atmosphere, are taken daily around that time. As soon as they come in, we can plot them on our own maps and see if our computer models were right from last night.”
The ability to read models and predict patterns served Abrams well during the most memorable weather event of his career — Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
Abrams led the team of AccuWeather forecasters through one of the largest June hurricanes on record. By Myers’ account, the effort “saved dozens of lives” by warning people via radio about severe flooding that was about to hit.
Abrams remembered alerting a company that was building dams around Lewistown and Raystown to remove equipment it had stored in a flood-prone area. The company later thanked AccuWeather, estimating the advice saved it a lot of money.
Even at that point, Abrams’ voice also was broadcast straight into homes. Only a relative few radio stations took AccuWeather forecasts at the time, but he recalled discussing Agnes-related flood crests and precautions on WARM in the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area when no one else provided that service.
“We were talking about severe flooding three days before it happened, right up through the event, and no one else was predicting that extensive flooding and that kind of damage,” Myers said. “Unfortunately, several hundred people died in the Poconos and Catskills, but I have no doubt the people who listened to us took notice of what we were predicting took it seriously.”
In addition to his forecasting prowess, Abrams carries a command of the English language that makes meteorology accessible for a larger audience.
Pursuing his masters in meteorology from Penn State, Abrams concentrated his thesis on research into various words and language, including how words are perceived. AccuWeather used his work to examine how its forecasts were reaching its audience.
“It turned out that a lot of the terminology that had been used by meteorologists did not resonate or was not understood by the public,” Myers said. “We wanted our forecasts to be superior in that regard, so people understood and made the right decisions.”
AccuWeather replaced meteorological jargon with King’s English for clarity.
Abrams’ broadcasting style — particularly his love of puns — also injected fun in his forecasts. Locally, that humor helped fuel on-air chemistry with longtime WRSC radio host Kevin Nelson.
Nelson retired from the State College station last year after a nearly 50-year broadcast career.
“We just anticipate each other because we both come up with similar bad puns from time to time,” Nelson said. “One of our favorite recurring gags, he often would do a poem about a special day or whatever, and at the end of it, I would say: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Bard of the Barometer!’ And he goes on: ‘I never borrowed a barometer!’
“We must’ve done that for 30 years.”
While he’s retiring from full-time duties at AccuWeather, Abrams plans to remain plenty involved in the weather. He intends to keep working for the company on a part-time basis and serve on the American Meteorological Society’s board of certified consulting meteorologists. He’ll continue living in Patton Township and might run for another term as a township supervisor, he said.
“I hope you have the best rest of the day you’ve ever had,” Abrams said, offering one of his hallmark lines. “Until tomorrow.”