American weather icon says farewell as illustrious 51-year career comes to a close
STATE COLLEGE — To tell the story of AccuWeather’s popular meteorologist Elliot Abrams, it’s best to begin at the end.
His March 1 retirement marks the end of a 51-year broadcasting career for one of America’s most highly regarded weather forecasters — someone familiar to radio audiences in Boston, Charlotte, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati and so many more cities whose listeners may feel he has been delivering the forecast from their own downtown. Instead, he has actually been tucked inside a soundproof booth in AccuWeather’s State College, Penn., headquarters.
“You really have to be in tune with what’s happening in each place that you’re forecasting for,” Abrams said. “Is there snow? Is there ice?
Is there fog? Is something different now than it’s going to be? What’s it going to be like when the kids get out of school? What’s it going to be like for soccer parents who want to go to a game? All these different things that people are doing — we want to be relevant to them.”
Abrams’s relevance is unquestioned, as he knows particularly well each winter when snow is in the forecast and a day off from school is on the minds of his younger listeners.
“If I predicted snow and it turned to rain, there were thousands of kids who were mad at me because I made it that way,” Abrams laughed.
For Abrams, the madness and the laughter and the endless bad puns — “pun-ishment” he calls it — will end after hundreds of thousands of forecasts when he retires from the only company for which he has ever worked full-time.
Or maybe it’s not the end. Maybe the end is just a new beginning.
“It’s been 51½ years, so I thought I might try something else,” Abrams said with a twinkle in his eye.
AN EARLY START
Abrams knew he wanted to be a weatherman when he was five; he played a weatherman in a second-grade class play, he delivered a memorized daily phone forecast to his grandmother, and as a kid, he put forecasts on his parents’ front lawn in Philadelphia like a “For Sale” sign for neighbors to read. So it was easy to forecast that he’d become a meteorologist.
“My son once said, ‘Dad, you knew what you wanted to do when you were five years old. I’m in 11th grade and I still don’t know what I want to do.’ And I said, ‘Fantastic. You’re normal.’”
AccuWeather now has more than 500 employees, but Abrams, AccuWeather’s senior vice president and chief forecaster, was the first one. Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers met Abrams on the Penn State campus and offered the undergraduate a part-time role calling in forecasts in 1967, and he became a full-time employee after receiving his master’s in meteorology in 1971.
Myers and Abrams created and grew AccuWeather’s network of radio stations, with Abrams doing the first radio broadcast on WARM in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, on Nov. 22, 1971. Stations in Syracuse, Philadelphia and other cities were added over time, as was television service, which began in 1972.
“Elliot is a brilliant weather forecaster, very creative and innovative and he developed his own knack for delivering the weather that was unique,” Myers said. “He has had a following of millions of people on the radio in major cities for decades. A lot of programming on radio and television comes and goes; you can’t find anything with the longevity of AccuWeather on some radio and TV stations that we are on. And part of that is a testimony to Elliot and the following he has.”
Early on, weather forecasting was largely a seasonal business for AccuWeather, with the company providing forecasts for ski areas and several cities and counties. Abrams’ attention to detail and his emphasis on connecting with his audience helped the company distinguish itself and grow into the global weather forecasting leader that serves more than 1.5 billion people daily through a diverse variety of media.
Abrams did extensive research early in his career "to find out the best way to give a forecast so that it could be best understood by people and remembered," he said.
For example, how did an audience perceive occasional rain versus intermittent rain? The comprehensive results led AccuWeather to "use the terms that connected better with what people thought, not what meteorologists believed based on their own feelings," Myers said.
"Elliot's pioneering research was a component of what distinguished AccuWeather and helped increase the advantage AccuWeather had in accuracy above all other forecasts."
During one of his forecasts, for example, Abrams pointed out that because of afternoon rain and falling temperatures, people after work would find their car door keyholes frozen over. “Our forecast told people what was going to happen and it did,” said Myers.
“We still follow that principle today,” Abrams said. “After people look at the high and low temperatures that are predicted, people are concerned with the details — and that precise information we provide is very helpful."
Such serious research was not needed for a 1976 Thanksgiving forecast that Abrams had done for a Baltimore station. A listener sent the text to Reader's Digest, which ran his "Please pass the Gravy" Thanksgiving forecast. It begins, "Turkeys will finish thawing Thanksgiving morning, then warm in the oven to a high near 190 in the afternoon. The kitchen will turn hot and humid, and if you bother the cook, be ready for a severe squall or a cold shoulder."
THE BIG ONE
Hurricane Agnes in 1972 stands out for Abrams among all other weather events; his prescient forecast of extreme flooding several days ahead of the hurricane “was the first example clearly of AccuWeather saving lives and warning people – and that’s what we have been about ever since,” said Myers.
Before the hurricane, Abrams warned a construction company that had been building dams in central Pennsylvania that “if they valued their equipment, they should get it out of the lowlands before the storm because the flood would wash it away or ruin it,” Abrams said.
“They told us afterwards that we saved them millions of dollars just by making that suggestion.”
Years of expertise has garnered accolades for Abrams from the American weather industry. He is one of a select few people in the world who has earned the accredited status of Certified Consulting Meteorologist along with the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Seal of Approval for both radio and television.
He earned the AMS 1993 award for Outstanding Service by a Broadcast Meteorologist “for his decades of significant contributions to radio weather broadcasting and to weather education at all levels,” followed by the AMS 1994 Charles Mitchell Award for “outstanding and unique dissemination of weather forecasts to the nation’s public by radio and television.” And in 2009, he was inducted into The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia’s Hall of Fame.
“Elliot has been the morning voice of weather on WBBM for the better part of three decades, providing critical information for Chicagoans,” WBBM director of news and programming Ron Gleason told AccuWeather. “He has been a key contributor to the growth of ‘Chicago’s Weather Station’ and we’ll miss both his knowledge and unique personality. Whether we had a bright, sunny summer day or a nasty winter blizzard, Elliot was the constant we could all depend on.”
Not one to reflect on his own legacy, Abrams said simply, “I just hope that people were glad they worked with me … I’m going to miss the people I work with every morning.”
Though retiring from full-time duties, Abrams still will have a part-time role with AccuWeather.
“I’m very proud of my husband and I love him," said Bonnie Abrams. "We always tease that we will be married 50 years in August and we said the reason we got along so great is we kept different hours. So it should be interesting having him around, but I'm looking forward to the next phase of our lives."
Though his forecasts were precise and creative, Abrams was routinely predictable when it came to leaving after his early-morning shift. He’d “pun-ish” co-workers with his puns — though to steal from him, like fog, he definitely will be mist — and ultimately head for the door with his signature farewell: “Have the best day you’ve ever had. Until tomorrow.”
"Until tomorrow" – maybe that’s the best end to the story of Elliot Abrams and his new beginning.