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Allegheny

Former Western Pa. weatherman has his eye on Hurricane Florence

Madasyn Czebiniak
| Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, 3:06 a.m.
Don Schwenneker
Don Schwenneker
Don Schwenneker, a meteorologist at ABC11 WTVD in Raleigh, N.C., forecasts Hurricane Florence on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Schwenneker was a meteorologist at WTAE for several years.
Don Schwenneker, a meteorologist at ABC11 WTVD in Raleigh, N.C., forecasts Hurricane Florence on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Schwenneker was a meteorologist at WTAE for several years.
Don Schwenneker
Don Schwenneker

Don “Big Weather” Schwenneker has some big weather in his forecast this week.

The former WTAE-TV meteorologist, who now works for ABC11 WTVD in the Raleigh-Durham area, has been providing ongoing forecasts of Hurricane Florence, the extremely dangerous storm that is expected to hit the Carolina coast Thursday night into Friday morning.

“We’ve been tracking it since (the) middle of last week, at least,” Schwenneker said. “Initially, when it came out, it wasn’t headed here — it was going to miss us — but hurricanes have a mind of their own, and models aren’t very good regardless of what people say. This thing has steadily been coming closer and closer to us.”

Schwenneker said one of the harder parts of his job is knowing that regardless of what he says, some people won’t listen. He worries someone might die during the hurricane. He said his wife asked him at the beginning of the week what his biggest stress was.

“Somebody is going to die this week, and did I warn them early enough or did they listen?” Schwenneker said he told his wife. “I think that’s my biggest stress, cause I know somebody is going to lose their life this week, and it’s probably going to be someone who didn’t heed the warnings and didn’t pay attention.”

Residents have been taking precautions in advance of the storm, which is expected to blast severe winds and rain across the area, Schwenneker said. The Raleigh area could see 5 to 10 inches of rain. Elsewhere in the state could get 20-plus inches.

“When you’re measuring your rain in feet instead of inches, flooding becomes a terrible concern,” Schwenneker said.

Before moving to ABC11 WTVD, Schwenneker worked for WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh and WTAJ-TV in Altoona. Nothing he covered in Pennsylvania compares with Hurricane Florence, he said. Most of the severe weather he dealt with in Pennsylvania consisted of intense thunderstorms, flooding, tornadoes, and snow.

He said one of the most stressful events he dealt with in Pittsburgh happened during his first year at the station, when he worked with Joe DeNardo.

“We had a snowfall forecast that was originally one-to-three inches, and it just kept building and building,” he said. “Finally, Joe DeNardo calls me and goes, ‘You need to make it more.’”

Schwenneker, 46, lives in Holly Springs, which is about a 30 minute drive from Raleigh.

He said the biggest difference between the weather in Raleigh and the weather in Pittsburgh is the fact that everything tends to shut down when it snows in Raleigh. That doesn’t happen in Pittsburgh.

“Nobody moves. It’s the weirdest thing,” he said.

Despite moving on, Schwenneker still has a deep love for Pittsburgh.

“When I first moved there somebody told me ‘It takes a long time for us to trust you, but once we do we always do,’” he said. “I felt like once I became part of Western Pennsylvania, it just was such a special place. My wife and I still have so many friends up there, and so many viewers still write me notes and e-mails.

“The people are great down here, too … but I think the people of Western Pennsylvania are just something special.”

Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, mczebiniak@tribweb.com, or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.

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