Paul Heggen is a terrific communicator and an excellent scientist. His last day on Channel 4 was November 19. Before Paul and Rachel got out of town, we did a Q & A by text, kinda like a sad exit interview.
David: So what everyone really wants to know is seriously, what happened, you were on in the mornings and then suddenly you weren’t on mornings anymore?
Paul: Right off the bat, a question I can’t answer! I signed a non-disclosure agreement (standard in TV contracts), so I can’t discuss it.
David: Gotta ask that question! Totally understand. This is the real world. So same answer to: was putting you on weekends what sent you looking for another gig?
Paul: Yes. Moving to weekends meant zero days off in common with my wife. That was a complete deal-breaker. That, and being removed from any on-air responsibilities during the week other than the noon newscast and occasional fill-in duties for Lisa [Spencer].
David: When do you start in Raleigh, at what station, will you be a morning or evening meteorologist, etc.
Paul: WNCN, the CBS affiliate. My first day in the building is Monday the 27th, and I’m scheduled to start on-air next Friday, December 1. I’ll be doing the weekday morning shift.
David: You’ve been at 4 in Nashville since when? Tell us your 3 most memorable weather events.
Paul: I started at WSMV in December 2009, so I was here just short of 8 years.
Top 3 in Nashville (since I figure y’all aren’t interested in Tulsa or Duluth stories):
(1) Flood Of 2010. My longest stretch on-air was Saturday night into Sunday morning — that’s when Opry Mills, Gaylord, and downtown started flooding…AND we also had about a dozen tornadoes touch down.
(2) Overnight tornadoes on January 30, 2013. Just a crazy night, with one of the biggest tornado outbreaks in Middle Tennessee history. IN JANUARY.
(3) The January 2015 snowstorm. Such an overachiever of a storm, and a humbling forecast experience.
Plus, you know…that time “Clay Travis Called ‘Walmart Skip Bayless’ by Nashville Weatherman After Snow Feud.”
David: What’s your beef with Clay?
Paul: Personally? None. I don’t know him, and I doubt that his in-person demeanor resembles the performance art that is his public persona.
The larger problem is non-meteorologists who know just enough about the weather to find the most hyperbolic snow/tornado/flood/whatever scenario and vomit it out onto the internet. Then it’s our job as responsible forecasters to not only provide the most-likely scenario, but to ALSO waste our time trying to un-ring the panic bell. (Thus the panic-ometer that I use on-air.)
David: About Clay, that is true. I met him a few times, played basketball against him, and found him to be pleasant and pretty cool. He said he was thankful to have our Twitter feed during a storm a few years back.
About hyperbole, preach!
Tell me about the most awkward/funny time where you were recognized out and about as a public figure. I know you have fans, probably crazy fans, who freak out when they see you.
Paul: I can’t think of anything particularly awkward — I’ve never been approached in a bathroom or anything like that, thankfully. The funniest ones have been when people recognize Dagny before they recognize me: “Hey, it’s the TV dog…oh, and you’re the TV guy!”
David: How is Dagny? She going to be on air with you in Raleigh?
Paul: She’s a little nervous because of all of the packing she sees us doing, and all of the boxes piling up in the house. (Same for our other two dogs, Scooter and Kramer.)
She will not be on-air with me in Raleigh — that was lightning in a bottle here, and it would be a mistake to try to duplicate it. She’ll still be active on Facebook and Instagram though!
David: One of the biggest forecast headaches for us is whether it will snow. What forecasting tips and tricks have you learned from your years here to help us best answer that question?
Paul: [nerd mode engaged] Follow the 700mb low! The heaviest snow (in the “deformation zone”) lines up just north of the track of low pressure at that level of the atmosphere. The trick is to figure out exactly where that path will be, and that’s where we often get tripped up. I’ve found more success relying on ensemble data, rather than the operational run of any one model. [end nerd mode]
David: What’s your opinion of forecast apps?
Paul: The ones that just pull model data for an hour-by-hour forecast are, for the most part, garbage.
However, most TV station apps allow the meteorologists to go in and change that data, so you’ll generally get a better forecast there…IF (big IF) the station’s meteorologists are diligent about actually doing that!
The lesson is always this: consult multiple sources of information.
David: Metro sounds tornado sirens in the entire county even if the entire county isn’t under a tornado warning, and they keep sounding them long after it’s clear the tornado has moved out of the county. What’s your opinion of that?
Paul: That’s not a leading question as all! It’s ridiculous, obviously. The NWS issues “polygon” warnings for smaller portions of counties for a good reason — to not freak people out. It’s not rocket science to have siren go off on a geo-located basis.
David: Well, this is cross examination, I’m allowed to lead the witness.
Metro seems to know better, suggesting the NWS should be warning more storms than they do, and warning a larger area than they do. What do you think of that and are you concerned about the confusion it creates and the overwarning it produces? Is safe better than sorry here?
David: Lots of people say they are boycotting 4 over your situation. You’ve spent years working with Lisa and Dan; should people stop watching 4?
Paul: I’m flattered that people think enough of me to do that. That said, I also have friends at WSMV who will be friends for life. So I’ll say this: there’s no one on-air who had anything to do with my situation. Watch who you want. Watch who you trust. Watch whoever respects your intelligence.
David: What’s your weather awareness message for us in Nashville and Middle Tennessee? What is it we do or don’t do you wish we would start or stop doing?
Paul: If you’re reading this, odds are you’re already pretty weather-aware. Keep it up, and encourage others to increase their weather awareness. There’s so much information available at your fingertips, there’s just no excuse for saying “I didn’t know it was going to snow (or storm, or be cold, or whatever).”
Also…it snows here. Six inches a year, on average. Don’t freak out when it happens.
David: All things considered, what do you like most about Nashville and what will you miss the most?
Paul: It’s hard to put into words. I like how cosmopolitan the area has become — whether it’s the music and arts scene, or the variety of outdoor activities, or the passion of sports fans…there’s no shortage of things to explore. We’ll miss the people the most — I’ve been overwhelmed by how supportive people have been throughout my time here, and throughout my departure as well.
David: Not that it matters what I think, but as your friend and as a fan of your work I support your decision. You need to be on TV more.
But I am not supportive of your departure. I think this sucks. You’re very good at your job and we are worse off without you, not just as weather consumers, but among those of us who deliver the weather, having you near has made us all better.
Paul: Thanks! I’ll miss interacting with you guys as well — people sometimes assume we’re competitive, but whatever it takes to bring some science into peoples lives is a good thing. There’s a movement among some TV consultants to make weather as un-scientific as possible…thankfully, there are places (like WNCN, where I’m going) that want people who bring ACCESSIBLE science to the table. It’s not about showing off what you know, it’s about sharing it in an engaging way — I’m a huge weather nerd (obviously) and I really like getting other people to be enthusiastic about it too!
David: Come back and see us!
Paul: We will, often!
And there he goes, riding off into the sunrise. (He’s going east, so he can’t ride into the sunset from here, and besides, it’s a new beginning.)