20 Questions


Mike Sabones

By Bonnie Blackburn
When people want to find out the weather forecast, they open the newspaper, power up the computer or turn on the TV. When the people who create those forecasts want to know what the weather’s going to be, they turn to the bright folks at the National Weather Service office in North Webster. Heading up that group is Mike Sabones, who concludes his tenure as Meteorologist in Chief this month. Find out what his favorite kind of weather is as we play 20 Questions.


Who do you trust with making weather predictions?
There are a lot of people who make weather forecasts. It can be very confusing to people. I really have a lot of faith in the men and women who do the weather forecasting for the National Weather Service. They are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

What got you interested in weather forecasting?
I grew up in LaPorte County on a farm. Weather pretty much dictated what the day’s activities would be.

What are three traits a good meteorologist should possess?
They need to be curious, very inquisitive and have a good, solid grasp of the world of physics. And they need to be able to communicate.

Would better forecasting have prevented the problems we’ve seen with Superstorm Sandy?
I think the forecasts were pretty good for Sandy. One of the aspects that make forecasting difficult is understanding the human response, especially when something that happens is way out of the norm. Sandy was a big, unusual storm. I thought the forecasts were pretty good. People just didn’t have the experience (to deal with the aftermath).

What will climate change’s effects be on Northeast Indiana?
It’s tricky to say. Everybody thinks “global warming” means it should be warmer. It causes shifts in circulation patterns that could be colder. We haven’t seen winters as bad as they have been in the past (recently).

Is climate change happening?
You have to just look around you to see it is. Look at the polar ice caps. It’s clear that it is. People also know there have been large climate swings through history. Is this something man caused or is it natural?

Weather forecasting seems to have gotten much better in recent years. To what do you attribute that?
The biggest improvement is in computer modeling of the atmosphere. But we’ve also invested heavily in training. Our ability to communicate has (also) improved.

Can you tell what the weather’s going to do just by looking at the sky?
Some days I can, and some days I can’t!

What’s your favorite kind of weather?
It’s funny you ask that. That’s one of the questions I (ask job candidates). I love beautiful, beautiful days in the fall when it’s sunny and 65 degrees. A lot of meteorologists find that on the boring side, but I love it.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I knew I wanted to do something with science.

What’s the craziest weather you’ve seen in Fort Wayne?
The (June 29) derecho — that was a very healthy storm. Some of the winter weather we see is some of the craziest, with snow, sleet, freezing rain. It’s really frustrating.

What’s the difference between cirrus clouds and cumulonimbus clouds?
When we think of cumulonimbus, we think of a “head of cauliflower” cloud. The big thunderstorm clouds. Cirrus are high ice crystals. They represent both ends of the spectrum.

Then what’s the difference between sleet and freezing rain?
Sleet starts as rain and freezes on the way down, and freezing rain freezes when it hits a surface.

How often are you right in your predictions?
In weather forecasting, it’s a matter of time. The shorter the time scale, the higher the percentage of accuracy.

What’s the difference between a weatherman and a meteorologist?
They can be one and the same thing. Back in the early 1970s, when I started out, professional meteorologists were rare. Weathermen were generally journalists. A meteorologist has professional training and a degree in meteorology.

What happens when you guys can’t get to work?
We have cots here, extra food. We do have people stay here. If we had a situation where the office couldn’t function, we have backup arrangements with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis. We’re sure we would be able to deliver the service people count on us for.

What’s the coolest technology you have here?
Our radar. The radar is a big 30-foot dish that sends out pulses of electronic-magnetic energy, from 500-1,300 pulses per second. They go out and hit something and come back before the next pulse goes out.

How important are your weather spotters?
We have a lot of weather spotters out there. We have people who give us reports. Even though we have this radar, thermodynamics change, the atmosphere changes. Spotters can really be helpful.

I understand you are retiring this month. What will you do in retirement?
Our kids are on both coasts, so I see a lot of travel in my future!

Weathermen are often the butt of bad jokes. What’s your favorite weatherman joke?
I can’t put it in print! Look, people don’t realize how much of this is math. We may never be perfect in this business, but every day, we get a little bit better and we’re working hard to have that trend continue.

Posted: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 2:17 pm
Last updated: Tue, 03/12/2013 - 12:45 pm