Jim Cantore Interview
Interview with Jim Cantore –
Sunday, June 4, 2006
AD - I’m trying to think of where to start here. Well, first of all, where were you during Katrina? You were at the VFW out here on the coast here?
JC - The Armed Forces Retirement Home, in Gulfport.
AD - And it’s my understanding that you guys had to vacate that premises in the middle of the storm.
JC - Well no, we went up.
The water came in and we went up. Just like everybody else, we had to help, well we didn’t have to help, but we did. We helped the Seabees. We just did a small part of what they did. they deserve all the credit for getting some 450 heroes upstairs, as much food as we could get because of course the kitchens on the fist floor, and so was the ICU, and all the medical supplies it was just a freaking mass dealing of getting everything upstairs, but we didn’t have a choice.
AD - How long have you been doing this now?
JC - 15 years.
AD - What was the first hurricane you covered?
JC - Andrew, the second landfall of Andrew in Baton Rouge
AD - How did that maybe compare to Katrina?
JC - It doesn’t. Not even close. It’s not even in the same league; In my 15 years I’ve never seen water like that, not even remotely close.
And water so early in the game. Usually, the surge components I’ve seen come in, you know one to two hours before landfall. They’ll slowly start to build but you don’t get twelve to fifteen feet three hours before landfall. That’s incredible.
AD - We set a lot of records last season.
JC - We had three hurricane seasons in one, pretty much. We had three of the lowest pressures ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin. that’s pretty strong
AD - There’s a lot of talk of patterns and how this could be a repetitive pattern considering we set all the records we set last year I don’t see how the can be repetitive pattern.
JC - You know what, here’s the deal. I’m not saying anything about that. After 2004, I said we’ll never see anything like this again, this was a historic season in 2004. We covered huge landfalls, boom, boom, boom, boom. Then 2005 came along so I’m not saying a word. I’m almost afraid to.
AD - You were at ground level during Katrina.
JC - Ground zero.
AD - You were able to see a lot of the response as you were moving from upstairs to downstairs and how local efforts were coordinated. This year communications is a pretty big deal from the state level to the local level. We all saw what happened in New Orleans due to lack of communications
JC - There’s no question, I think everybody realizes a little bit in scope as to how we need to have things in place, before the storm and then after the storm. We need to be able to deploy to get communications out
There’s no reason why that shouldn’t have been done before, during and after Katrina. Somebody should have listened to Dr. Max Mayfield or watched us at the Weather Channel. I know Max personally and I know exactly how he felt about this storm as did we. But people disbelieved us. Having not dealt with anything like this since Camille, as far as the water was concerned especially. I don’t think anybody took it seriously.
AD - Which leads to the next question. Obviously we had last season. Do you find that people are taking this more seriously this year?
JC - We have to, we just have to.
We looked like crap as a country. We embarrassed ourselves. We’ve got to do better. I’m not saying we have to take care of everybody. The onus, I think, is on the individual. That’s where it starts. But we have to realize too that we have to be able to react quickly after something like this.
AD - At what point were you able to get outside after Katrina?
JC - We went out that afternoon. The water recedes after it comes in. It’s the coming in process that does all the damage. So yeah, we were out around two or three in the afternoon just shaking our heads. For me personally, it was like how in the heck, if we’re at 20-plus feet above sea level, did we get in that surge zone, four hours before landfall. I was just sort of shaken. It was a lesson for me
I’ll never forget my great mentor John Hope, the late tropical expert, he died back in 2002. He said ‘Jimmy, never get caught in the surge. That’s where you don’t want to be.’ He was right. Our vehicles were caught in it, we weren’t. We were in a building, we could go up, and obviously we took into calculation when we got there. Obviously we know better now, though, just what that surge can do.
AD - Being the Weather Channel, having all this technology at your disposal, you can pretty much forecast and see what’s coming, but once you’re bunkered down like that and once that storm is on you what can you tell from a scientific standpoint? Were you able to get wind speeds or anything?
JC - No. Nothing. I guess the highest wind speed recorded in Biloxi, was 90 mph gusts out near the airport. The wind, for all intents and purpose, was not the issue with this storm, but the surge.
AD - Not the magnitude but..
JC - The size.
AD - The size. I live in St Tammany Parish, at the western edge. I live over towards Mandeville not far from foot of the Causeway. I’ve got family in Slidell. I grew up in Slidell. We basically got a new shoreline there from the lake. Our house, my mom’s house, sister’s house and businesses, all of it was under eight feet of water.
It was perplexing. When we got back I went in to go take pictures for my mom. My childhood home. We had this huge piano that had been in one spot since I was a child. It never moved. It was flipped over.
She also had this huge dresser drawer in her master bedroom. It would take six people to move it. It was just just flipped over on its side. Out towards the lake, on Highway 11, boats and cars were just tossed. It’s odd because you see in previous storms, the damage these storms can do. But it’s different once it’s in your own back yard. It’s different when the eyes of the entire nation are on you, just basically shaking their heads.
JC - That was another thing that was different for me. It was kind of like I was a part of the storm. It was very hard to leave. I felt like I was leaving my wing men behind. I’ve got a family, I’ve got a home and family but it was still hard.
AD - It’s been weird. It’s been weird separating myself; I’ve been covering storm-related recovery efforts since the storm. It’s never really stopped for me since I came back from evacuating.
JC - It won’t stop. You could easily do two more years.
AD - It’s just incredible that we’ve got another season on us now.
JC - Yeah
AD - I guess one last question. Obviously you deal a lot with the media. What is the one thing that people aren’t asking you that maybe they should be asking you?
JC - Is my elevator going? Is it stuck? Is it broken? Why am I doing what I do? I don’t know. I think everyone has pretty much asked everything. I wish they would stop thinking that I actually bring them (hurricanes) with me. That’s absurd, that’s just absolutely absurd.
AD - I saw a guy at Clearview yesterday who was saying I don’t want to see you guy around, because all it means is trouble...
JC - I think it stems from simple fact that they have nobody else to blame. They’re like whose fault is it. And I guess you gotta blame somebody if it makes you feel better.
It doesn’t make me feel better, but it makes somebody feel better. But I don’t bring them with me. This stuff just happens. It’s mother nature.
Hurricanes are just huge heat engines, they’re supposed to take the heat from the tropics and redistribute it to the poles. Unfortunately, the United States just happens to get in the way every once in a while
AD - We had a really really mild winter. I doubt the Gulf water has ever really cooled. It’s already hot. In terms of coast line. Louisiana coastline, we lost..I’m not sure the exact figure we lost this year. around 30 or 40 percent, that was already already dwindling, was lost.
JC - You’ve got to realize that our mistakes for this hurricane we started doing them 40 or 50 years ago. You can’t wipe out marshland. You can’t just build whatever you want, wherever you want. We’ve always been susceptible to a Katrina, and not just New Orleans specifically. It just happened to happen last year.
Hopefully it will make us smarter. You can build stuff to withstand a Cat 5 if you don’t care about the first 30 feet of what your building on. That’s really the way stuff needs to be built..
But I still don’t think every friggin piece of coastline needs to be built on. Mayor Holloway is talking about rebuilding the entire barrier island out there, its gotten beat up, it will get beat up again but I think that’s the right step, the right track. Louisiana for example, you need to rebuild that marshland. You need to let that grow as naturally and as quickly as you can
AD - That’s the one barrier we have between us and the storm.
JC - That’s all you got
AD - That’s all we got down there, and basically, what they’re saying this season is that a category 1 is going to feel like a category 3 because of the amount of ground we’ve lost
JC - And the weakened state you’re in. Yeah. That’s true.
AD - I think that’s all I’ve got.
JC - Well thanks a lot for coming buddy.