Facebook post gives weatherman chance to clear the air over snow
By: Kate Uptergrove
On Feb. 2 a snowstorm hit St. Louis. On the air and on his official Facebook page, Fox2 meteorologist Chris Higgins reported that the storm was coming, predicting “a dusting to 1 inch or so of snow.” He added “there may be a few spots within the swath that push to about 2 inches …”
By 10 p.m., Higgins was forecasting up to 3 inches in spots.
Despite his warning some people were surprised, especially when accumulations exceeded 2 inches, and a few angry people took their complaints to Twitter and Facebook, chastising the weatherman. On Feb. 3, Higgins replied.
“This is an open letter of sorts to respond to the many posts from folks who claim this storm was a complete surprise and who have gone as far as to question my integrity by calling me a liar and an idiot,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
He admitted, “I do this at the risk of getting in trouble but I feel it necessary to defend my integrity.”
The vast majority of the 2,159 people who chose to comment on his post agreed.
But Higgins said the post wasn’t just about defending his integrity.
“The weather profession has become the butt of jokes, and one of the reasons I spoke out is because I’m afraid that we might be getting to the point where people aren’t listening.”
There’s a danger in that, Higgins said.
“People have gotten to the point where they want such details and specifics. They’ve come to expect down-to-the neighborhood predictions, such as those they get from their automated smartphones apps, which are generated by computers with no human input and are not very accurate,” he said. “Our job is to get everybody into the ballpark and give them as good an idea as we can of what to expect so that they can prepare.”
Still he admits that there’s only so much meteorologists can do to get the public ready.
“The world of weather has gotten very, very complex over the last 30 years. It has gotten as complex as the technology will let it,” Higgins said. “As a meteorologist my job is two-fold.
“Meteorologists have to be forecasters. We have to be able to look at the science and very complicated technology and predict what the weather is going to be. We also have to be communicators.
“Merging those two together can really be a juggernaut, especially when you have 36 counties in your viewing area – roughly 85 miles from downtown in all directions.
“I want people to understand that even though we have fun with our jobs we take what we say on the air very seriously. It’s a very personal thing for me because I know what I say and what I forecast can change lives, can save lives and if not done properly can cost lives.”
It was the loss of American lives on Sept. 11, 2001, that inspired Higgins to join the Air Force.
“I’m passionate about my service,” Higgins said. “I think everybody should do something to give back to the community, to the nation.”
Higgins is a major in the United States Air Force Reserves, a member of the 932d Airlift Wing at Scott Air Force Base.
“After 911 I knew there were other ways I could use my skills as a communicator and a forecaster to serve the community. When I’m in my uniform and I’m forecasting I know it truly touches lives,” he said. “Weather is a huge part of every military mission.
“When I deployed in 2008 that was the pinnacle of my forecasting career. I was out of country for four months.”
Minding the homefront was Higgins’ wife, Debbie, and their son. The family are residents of West County and always have been. Higgins graduated from De Smet Jesuit, and Debbie graduated from St. Joseph’s Academy.
Family, he says, is something else that he’s passionate about.
“We have a saying in the Air Force Reserve that there are three pillars in life: your family, your service and your civilian career,” Higgins said.
Tending those three pillars keeps him busy and in each of them he said he strives to display his third passion – respect.
“I have very strong feelings about the need for people to respect one another. We can disagree, we can be in opposite political parties and have 100 percent different ideological viewpoints, but we can still respect each other and treat one another with common courtesy and dignity.”