January-February 2015 | Health

Doug Kammerer, The Weather Junkie

Bethesda Magazine Interview

The sun is shining, and has been for days, which means Doug Kammerer is bored. The NBC4 chief meteorologist would much rather be tracking bad weather than talking about what a beautiful day it is. He enjoys the drama of big storms, especially the tricky ones, and the challenge of the infamous rain/snow line. A self-proclaimed “weather weenie,” Kammerer still remembers the bolt of lightning that hit the ground near his house in Herndon, Va., when he was in third grade, and the way it made his windows shake. He wanted to be a weatherman ever since. As a teenager, he watched The Weather Channel, not MTV. Friends came to him when they wanted a forecast.  

Kammerer started his television career in Macon, Ga., where he met his wife, Holly, a reporter at the station. Later, he spent four years on the air in Florida where he got to chase hurricanes, before moving to Philadelphia. In 2010, he got a call about a job in Washington, D.C., the place he’d always hoped to end up. NBC4’s Bob Ryan, who Kammerer admired as a child, was leaving the station, and the news director wanted him to take Ryan’s place. A few months later, Kammerer moved his family to Chevy Chase and took a seat next to Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler at the anchor desk in his hometown.

Kammerer, 39, met with Bethesda Magazine at NBC4 on Nebraska Avenue in Northwest D.C., the same building where he interviewed Ryan for a school project on weather nearly 25 years ago.


Q&A

Did you always love weather?

I’ve known I’ve wanted to do this since I was about 8. I just loved thunderstorms—I would sit outside and watch these storms as they rolled on through. This is not what you’re supposed to do, but if there was a tornado warning for Fairfax County, I would be outside on my driveway waiting for it to come up the street. Never happened, thank God. But that was me. I loved it that much.

I did my 10th-grade math report on Bob Ryan. I came in to figure out what math had to do with meteorology. I just called him and said, ‘I’m doing my report on you and weather. Will you help me?’ And he did. I interviewed him, and he gave me all kinds of weather maps that I was just so excited to get. The first time I was in front of the camera, in front of the weather wall, was in this building.  

So you were a Channel 4 guy growing up?

Yeah. I would watch everybody else, too. Bob Ryan came on at 11:15 at night, maybe Topper [Shutt] was on at 11:16, Doug Hill was on at 11:17. And I’m flipping back and forth the whole time, trying to figure out, especially for snow, which forecast is gonna be right. I was a weather junkie.

Which is what people do now, with you. Is that a lot of pressure?

No. I absolutely love it. The best thing I can do is get the forecast right, especially when it’s a situation that everybody really depends on—if it’s snow or severe weather coming in, like the derecho [in June 2012]. That, for me, is the challenge. When we have that blizzard, that’s our Super Bowl.

What fascinates you about the weather?

I love seeing the power of Mother Nature, seeing what it can do. We live in a great forecasting area because we have all four seasons. I’ve done the weather in Florida. Hated it. ‘What’s your forecast today?’ ‘Hot and humid, high temperature 92. Back to you, Steve.’

So this was your dream, to come back to the D.C. area?

I remember exactly where I was when I got the phone call from my agent: ‘Channel 4 in Washington wants you.’ I was absolutely flabbergasted. I was like, ‘Who is this? Is this a joke?’ This is exactly what I wanted to do. Not many people get to do that. Once in a while, you gotta pinch yourself.

When you were growing up in Herndon, did people go crazy over 2 inches of snow?

Oh, yes. It amazes me. Two inches of snow one day is a lot different than 2 inches of snow another day, and it’s all based on timing and temperature. We had ‘Carmageddon’ back in 2011. It wasn’t that much snow, but it came during rush hour, and it came down so hard and so fast that it stuck to everything and people were in their cars for 12 hours. You have that same storm on a Saturday and it doesn’t cause any issues. We had drizzle come through one day when I was in Philadelphia. As soon as we hit 32 degrees, all the bridges froze. There were 10-, 15-, 20-car pileups within a matter of minutes. That’s why even a 2-inch snowstorm can be very significant. Now, do we need to go to the store and buy milk, bread and cookies? No.

People laugh at us because even 4 or 5 inches of snow, in most places, is nothing. As soon as we see a flake in the forecast, we’re talking about it, especially when it comes to school.

Most winters we’re only gonna get five to seven days of snowfall. That percentage is small, so I think that’s why you have people that freak out a lot. In Buffalo, they have 30 days of snowfall during the winter. They see it all the time. We don’t see it all the time—when we do, we can go overboard a little.

What’s it like forecasting the weather here?

The hardest thing for us to forecast is the rain/snow line. If we’re going for mostly snow in Bethesda, and that rain/snow line goes just outside the Beltway, so Rockville’s getting all snow and Bethesda’s getting a mix of rain and snow, you look outside your house in Bethesda and you’re going: ‘What happened? They said we’d get snow.’ Meanwhile, Rockville’s going: ‘Those guys are great—they’re right on the money!’

That rain/snow line is a killer. It’s not just rain/snow—it’s rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain. It’s all about where that 32-degree line sets up in the atmosphere. We had one storm where in D.C. it snowed all day, but they were big, fat, thick flakes that were melting. We didn’t get anything in the city, whereas out in the suburbs in Montgomery—we’re not talking very far—Gaithersburg saw 8 inches of snow. It’s such a huge difference, such a fine line.

Do you ever end up covering news?

We do get brought into news stories every once in a while. We’re known as the station scientists. I’ve studied earthquakes and volcanoes, so when the earthquake happened [in August 2011], they immediately came to us to figure out what was going on. Our crew wasn’t in yet, so I was the first one on the air because the camera in the weather center doesn’t need a crew. The earthquake knocked out all of the audio for the building. The camera in the weather center was the only one that had audio, so for 2½ hours straight we were the only people that could go on television. Even though we had anchors here ready to go, we couldn’t hear them.

Have you had a moment on the air when you couldn’t get your words out?

All the time. We’re live and we can’t stop. I did the snowstorms in 2010 and I was on the air for 19 hours straight. Try saying ‘wet roads’ so many times. Wet roads is a very hard thing to say. I literally try not to say that on the air. It’s that hard.  

Do you get calls and emails when you get a forecast wrong? How do you handle that?

I’ll put on Facebook how much snow people are going to get and I’ll be right for most everybody, but there’s that one area that got a little bit warmer that got almost nothing. They’ll say everything: ‘You guys are terrible. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Great to be a weatherman, where you can get it right 50 percent of the time and still keep your job!’

If you do mess up, are you hard on yourself or do you laugh it off?

I laugh it off because I know I’m not gonna be perfect, ever, and if you can’t have fun, if you can’t laugh at yourself a little bit, there’s really no point.

What’s it like for you leading up to a big storm?

Our models can look out about 10 days. We don’t have any real accuracy past about seven days. We’re really good once we get into five days, then we’re great within three days. You can pretty much bank on whatever we say at three days.

There’s so many different models to look at from across the world. If we see a storm on one model on Day Seven, and then we see it on a second model and we know the pattern’s right, then we start to think about that storm. Once it’s into that five-day range, you know we’ve really got some potential there. By Day Three, we’ve got a plan in the newsroom, not just in the weather department. If I know we’re gonna get up to a foot, it’s all hands on deck. Two days out? Now we can give snow totals. The day leading up to that storm we’re watching every single model run. They come out every six hours. We’re scrutinizing everything, making our final call.

So those weather models that really help you 48 hours out aren’t good enough when it comes to the 32-degree mark?

No, and thank goodness they’re not. If the models were great, you wouldn’t need us.