Greater Latrobe grad shoots the breeze for The Weather Channel
By Bob Stiles
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 10:36 p.m.
Greg Forbes grabbed his phone and hurriedly reached his cousin in Southwest Greensburg.
Forbes — known as “Dr. Greg,” the severe weather expert on The Weather Channel — saw computer models were showing a tornado developing in Hempfield in 2011.
“I said, ‘Go in the basement,' ” Forbes recalled.
Given his cousin's background, Corry Sheffler heeded the advice. “I really take it seriously when he calls,” Sheffler said.
Forbes, who grew up in Unity and graduated in 1968 from Greater Latrobe High School, has that effect on people. He knows that when his face pops up on the tube, Weather Channel viewers take heed, especially if he is talking about their home area.
“That's sort of the idea,” Forbes said. “If I'm on the air, it's an uh-oh moment. It's the same thing Jim Cantore gets when he shows up doing remote broadcasts from somebody's city. They're not happy to see him.”
Forbes, 63, who lives in an Atlanta suburb, became enchanted with meteorology after taking a class on the subject as a student in Mt. View Elementary School.
“It was eye-opening,” Forbes said.
His interest cemented, Forbes began monitoring barometer, rain and wind gauges as a teen. He watched television, too, turning the dial to KDKA-TV and weatherman Joe DeNardo, a trained meteorologist.
“(DeNardo) made it clear that it was a true science,” Forbes said.
After high school, Forbes left for Penn State University and then the University of Chicago, where he earned degrees in meteorology.
In Chicago, he studied under Ted Fujita, or “Mr. Tornado,” en route to his doctorate in meteorology. Fujita developed the original Fujita Scale used to measure the impact of tornados.
“At that point, I decided I might be able to do something that would save people's lives,” Forbes said.
He started at The Weather Channel in 1999 after working 21 years as a meteorology professor at Penn State.
He said he was fortunate The Weather Channel wanted to “brand” itself by hiring “higher-level expertise” for on the air. Up to that point, Forbes believed he had “priced himself out of operational forecasting” by getting his doctorate.
“They interviewed a lot of people,” Forbes said. “But a lot of people who do that sort of thing like to do storm chasing. I wasn't enamored of storm chasing, so being confined to a TV studio wasn't going to bother me. I like looking at radar.”
Since then, he has become known for the Tor:Con Index — a 1-to-10 ranking of the likelihood of tornados in an area — and telling viewers to “stay safe.”
Forbes said weather prediction is better today than even a few years ago. Advancements in technology, such as Doppler radar, have made the difference, he said.
“Back when I was a student, nobody expected weather to be correct at all. The changes have been so dramatic. The accuracy has gone up tremendously,” he said.
“We're probably as accurate five days in advance as we were for the current day when I was a student in Latrobe,” he said.
Forbes chose weather forecasting for other reasons.
“I knew it really would make a difference in people's day-to-day activities, and I realized it was something to do to get instant feedback,” he said.
Weather isn't any worse today than it was years ago, although many people seem to believe it is, Forbes said. He believes population growth and urban sprawl have impacted people's perception.
More sources of weather information, such as cable channels and the Internet, further heighten people's weather awareness, Forbes said.
Forbes doesn't get back to Western Pennsylvania as often as he would like. When he does, he enjoys visiting Sheffler and his family — he did so over the holidays — along with going to antique stores and area attractions.
“I like to collect things,” including old political buttons, Forbes said.
He and his cousin visited the Heinz History Museum in Pittsburgh to look at an exhibit involving Pennsylvania's role in the Civil War — another interest — and the Latrobe Historical Society.
When he visits, people sometimes recognize him, Forbes said. If they don't identify him immediately but think they know him, they look at him quizzically or start asking questions, he said.
Such a moment occurred last week in the Agway store in Southwest Greensburg.
“The guy said, ‘You look awfully familiar,' ” Forbes recalled. “I said, ‘Do you watch The Weather Channel?' He said, ‘Oh, you're Dr. Greg.' ”
Bob Stiles is a staff writer forTrib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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