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Forecasters Who Embrace the Weather, Not Just Predict It

How adventurous is your weather forecaster?

We see them in television studios, on decks, even leaning into hurricane-force winds and skin-pelting rain. I'm guessing they only take part in those howling, eye-of-the-storm remotes semi-voluntarily, but it emphasizes a point: The outdoors is central to their profession.

So how many of them seriously go one-on-one with the outdoors for fun and adventure? We know of a few backcountry-savvy forecasters here in the Pacific Northwest, REI's home turf, and we'd love to hear about others elsewhere in the country. Readers, please let us know about forecasters in your area who understand how to adapt to the weather as well as map it out. 

Here's our initial who's-who in outdoor adventure among American forecasters:

Jeff Renner, chief meteorologist, KING-TV, Seattle: Renner—author, hiker, cross-country and downhill skier, diver, fisherman, wakeboarder—had his fondness for skijoring (dog-assisted cross-country skiing) showcased last month on a local newsmagazine (sorry about the unavoidable lead-in commercial; it's out of our control):

Jeff RennerA longtime REI co-op member, Renner has climbed Washington's 2 tallest technical peaks, Mt. Rainier (14,411 feet, carrying a full pack all the way to the summit crater; "The toughest outdoor challenge I've undertaken," he says) and Mt. Baker (10,781), and he has published 2 books, Mountain Weather and Lightning Strikes, as well as a handy quick-reference card, Renner's Guide to Mountain Weather.

Rich Marriott, KING-TV, Seattle: Marriott says his primary pursuits ("Beyond drinking a beer in the sun," he says) are snowboarding, skiing (downhill and backcountry), hiking and backpacking. He spent last week on a skiing and snowboarding binge in British Columbia and Alberta, in fact.

He has twice summitted Rainier (via 2 different routes) and is co-founder of the Northwest Mountain Weather and Avalanche Forecast Center, where he toiled with current director Mark Moore for 15 years before jumping to what he jokingly calls "the dark side" of television forecasting. "He's an avalanche expert's avalanche expert," Renner says admiringly.

Rich Marriott snow campingClimbing Rainier has its challenges, but Marriott says a tougher ordeal was an October backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail in 2001. His wife joined him for a 65-mile trek that began on the western edge of Washington's Glacier Peak Wilderness and finished at Steven's Pass on U.S. 2. (For Northwest types familiar with the territory, Rich entered via Suiattle River Road and accessed the PCT via the Milk Creek Trail—before both were damaged in a 2003 storm).

The weather was not kind. "We were in a monsoon that shifted back and forth between rain and very wet snow for a week," he recalls. "We were the coldest and wettest I have ever been, and my wife became hypothermic once during the trip. It was late enough in the season we couldn’t bail out to any intermediate trail heads and had to push all the way through to Stevens to get picked up." The aftermath? "It was the last time my wife went backpacking," he says.
Marriott, though, keeps coming back for more. "I just enjoy being outside, especially in the mountains," he says. "It is the place where I feel most a peace—though occasionally a tropical beach is pretty peaceful, too. My favorite is probably a long backpack where you can measure your work on a daily basis, looking at approaching peaks and then looking back at them after you have passed them."

Matt Zaffino, chief meteorologist, KGW-TV, Portland, Ore.: Zaffino—a backpacker, backcountry skier, mountaineer and kayaker—has summitted both Rainier and Oregon's Mt. Hood (11,235 feet). He is the only person to ever conduct a live television broadcast from the summit of Mt. Hood.

Matt ZaffinoThe Northwest cognoscenti will be impressed to hear that Zaffino has climbed Mt. Challenger (8,207) in North Cascades National Park and has completed the demanding off-trail Ptarmigan Traverse as well as exploring sections of the forbidding Pickett Range and a portion of the Bailey Traverse in the Olympic Mountains. He has run 16 marathons, undertaken 6-day sea kayaking trips in Alaska's Glacier Bay and Australia's Whitsunday Islands and is a former member of the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol.

How come more forecasters are not hard-core outdoor types? "No great theory here," Zaffino says. "We're a probably a representative sample of the greater population. The percentage of individuals who are ardent outdoor people is probably as low for forecasters as it is for the population as a whole."

Shannon O'DonnellAnd hats off to forecasters who may not be hard-core explorers but still love to connect with the outdoors. That would include people such as Shannon O'Donnell at KOMO-TV in Seattle who with her husband has already introduced her 2 boys (ages 3 and 5) to skiing. "That's probably been my most ambitious outdoor adventure," says a O'Donnell, who years ago caught a 100-pound tuna while working on a NOAA ship. ("I've got the pictures to prove it, too," she says.) How does she keep in shape with all her family and television responsibilities? "I actually run stairs here at KOMO between shows," she says. "I try to get in about 50 flights each time I work."

Are you aware of adventurous weather forecasters in your city? We'd love to hear about them.

Photos (top to bottom):

• Jeff Renner, KING-TV, Seattle
• Rich Marriott, KING-TV, Seattle, while snow camping
• Matt Zaffino, KGW-TV, Portland, Ore. (trekking the Yukon's Tombstone Ridge)
• Shannon O'Donnell, KOMO-TV, Seattle
• Matt Zaffino, at the completion of his Ptarmigan Ridge traverse (Glacier Peak in the background, located in the Glacier Peak Wilderness of Washington's North Cascades)

Posted on at 12:51 PM

Tagged: Jeff Renner, Matt Zaffino, Rich Marriott, Shannon O'Donnell and weather forecasters

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These are great examples, and there are actually more outdoorsy meteorologists than you might think. Many aren't on TV but are prolific bloggers with a dedicated niche audience. I founded as a meteorologist dedicated to finding snow, and is solely run by meteorology grad students at the University of Utah. Just two examples.

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T.D. Wood Staff Member

Great examples, Joel. Both sites (and their accompanying blogs) look dedicated to providing good info for serious fun. Thanks for pointing them out.


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