Know Your Local Media: KPRC's Frank Billingsley Keeps You Calm During the Storm
As someone fascinated by hurricanes and living in Houston, the summer of 2005 was an odd and captivating time for me. A record was set for the number of named storms and major hurricanes in a season, and Houston was caught staring down the barrel of a gun twice, first with Hurricane Katrina and then with Hurricane Rita, which caused a panicked evacuation that turned stretches of south Texas roadways into the highways to hell.
Naturally, I watched with great interest the various weathercasters on local news. Over and over, I returned to Channel 2 and chief meteorologist Frank Billingsley. Not only was he informative, but he was calm and objective in his analysis, something far too many of his colleagues and fellow weathercasters were not. After Ike, I remember Billingsley flying over some of the flooded parts of Galveston, giving fantastic descriptions of the area and what was normally there from memory.
As a result, I consider him to be the best TV weather person in town. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions.
1. During Hurricane Rita and in the wake of Hurricane Ike, you seemed to be the voice of reason among weathercasters. In a business where, all too often, hyperbole wins out over factual reporting, how do you maintain that balance between warning people and scaring them?
Here's the thing about hurricanes...they are their own hype and certainly don't need any from me! A Rita or Ike grabs the public's attention on its own. The challenge these days is when someone posts on Facebook a computer model forecasting a hurricane 16 days out with the comment "Watch Out Houston!!" That takes on a life of its own that we then have to address and try to make real sense out of.
On the upside, social media has driven home the real dangers weather brings -- in our recent floods, people were posting pictures and warning others of high water on roads -- so I'm not knocking social media. It's all about context. So I try to be there to sort out what people really need to understand in any given weather situation...which is what I've always done. Share, don't scare. But when I say get the hell out, I mean it.
2. You pride yourself on simplifying the weather for people. How do you approach simplifying it without dumbing it down too much?
By approaching weather just like a viewer would. We all like to understand what's going on in the world without being made to feel inept...me included. I can talk about "vertical velocity with moist air advection" or just call it a building thunderstorm. Anyone can fancyspeak in their field of specialty...and it usually reflects insecurity...you know, baffle them with baloney if you can't dazzle them with brilliance. That's not my style. And let's face reality, if people don't understand the weather, then they won't care about it and won't watch me...that's never a good thing!