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Arkansas's favorite weatherman talks industry progress, climate future

Barry Brandt

As somewhat of a local celebrity, KATV Meteorologist Barry Brandt blew into town Wednesday for Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club's weekly meeting, delivering a message of weather, and inevitably climate, with the same amiable personality Arkansans have viewed on their TV screens for more than 20 years.

Being a veteran of the industry, Brandt was able to describe the progress meteorologists' predictions have made.

"Computers have gotten immeasurably faster, and that's why forecasts are immeasurably better than they use to be," he said, noting that they use to have to keep three, four and five day forecasts very vague, but now they are able to do a solid 10-day forecast.

"And I've got as much confidence in an eight, nine and 10-day forecast right now as I did in three, four and five days 30 years ago," Brandt said. "Now, it won't always be perfect, but we can see trends so well, even out to that timeframe."

Even in severe weather situations, he said it has gone from being able to give a two-minute warning of a large tornado approaching 40 years ago, to a 22-minute warning now.

"It's not a perfect science, and it never will be perfect, we're just trying to get it closer to perfect," Brandt said.

"And we get closer and closer; better and better; farther and farther out, but the atmosphere is too big of a place to narrow it down to 'Hey, at my house it didn't do what you said it was going to do.' Well it might have done it at a lot of other spots, but in the summertime somebody could get three inches of rain, and across the street you could get zero inches of rain."

Likewise, Brandt said don't hold meteorologists to the four-day ago forecast; watch the station's weather updates throughout the day for the most up-to-date weather forecasts. This can be done via cable, or on the KATV Weather App.

Prior to taking any questions from the audience, Brandt noted, "I'm not a climatologist. I know you're going to have some climate questions out there, but I'll do what I can do." Nonetheless, of the many questions asked afterward one rotarian asked: Are we seeing more severe storms?

Brandt didn't dance around the hidden meaning behind their inquiry about proof of climate change, and delivered an optimistic, objective and, what he referred to as, "politically correct" answer. Some may even say it was poetic.

"Are we seeing more severe storms? Are the hurricanes bigger? Is the rain heavier? Are the cold snaps colder? Are the warm snaps warmer?" he began.

"I'm going to be very politically correct on this answer, but I will say it is inevitable that Earth's climate will change some due to carbon initiatives, right? We've got a lot of people on planet earth, and in, what 30 years? We're going to have twice as many people, maybe 15 billion or 16. And you've got to keep the economic engine running, so fuel has to happen, has to be used. But I tend to think we're going to figure this out.

"And do I think these storms are a little worse? I don't think you can look at any one storm, or any one instance of rain," Brandt said, exemplifying a large rain event of 19 inches that occurred early June in southeast Arkansas, comparing it to the historic flood of May 19, 1990, in downtown Hot Springs.

"Those are things that happen," he said. "They're going to happen, extremes of weather are going to happen. So are the hurricanes worse? Maybe incrementally because sea surface temperatures are incrementally warmer than they were 50 years ago. You need warm water for a hurricane.

"Are the cold snaps colder? I don't know that we've seen that happen. I know that we had a cold snap back in February here, but in 1989 we had a cold snap like that, and you can look at the records that we're running up against, a lot of those happened 110, 120 years ago. There was no global climate change back then, so things like that are going to happen.

"You have to then look at the bigger picture things like is Greenland melting and are the polar ice caps smaller than they were? Yeah, I think you can look at that very objectively and say yes, there is some change.

"I think we will, as a race, we'll figure that out because gas and oil will run out, and we're making pushes toward electricity. Everybody would rather not burn fossil fuel, right? We'd all rather not, but it's going to be awhile before we figure that out. I think we'll figure it out, I think the atmosphere is a big place, and I think it will absorb a lot of stuff we're throwing at it, and hopefully we don't see the large-scale change that is projected by a lot of people.

"I don't think we've done less catastrophic damage to the atmosphere. It doesn't mean we can't try to burn less fuel at some point, but you've still got to have the economy rolling, so the leaders have to figure that one out. Not me, thank goodness."

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