As a well-known TV celebrity, Jim Cantore is no novice when it comes to speaking to audiences. The Weather Channel reporter/meteorologist appeared completely at ease sitting on a chair in front of a live crowd at the 24th annual Glen Gerberg Weather and Climate Summit in Breckenridge Wednesday night. Beside him sat Dale Eck, the Global Forecast Center director for The Weather Channel and the summit organizer. Throughout the hour-long presentation, the two shared their experiences, going back and forth with various "weather war stories" as though they were chatting over drinks rather in front of the eyes and camera lenses of the audience.
Cantore shared that he'd always enjoyed being outdoors as a kid and has been interested in weather and climate for a long time. He showed several clips of himself reporting in extreme weather. In one clip, ice was freezing over his face even as he spoke. In another, winds of nearly 80 mph blasted sheets of rain that knocked him into a crouching position and roared over the microphone (but not too loud to drown out a joking reference to Tebow).
As the audience gasps and groans in commiseration, Cantore reminds them it's not just him out there in the storm, but also his team of cameramen, producers and others.
"I couldn't do it without the folks behind the scenes," he said.
A few times, Cantore shared, the weather has become so dangerous that he's stopped reporting to help people nearby.
"It's not about the TV anymore, it's about getting people out of harm's way," he said.
Though most of the time Cantore kept up a light-hearted tone, he became more somber and serious when discussing his experiences during Hurricane Katrina. It was the first time he'd met with death in the field, he said, and it impacted him deeply.
"Katrina was definitely tough," he said. "It was hard to leave. I felt like I was abandoning people. It was psychologically hard."
Cantore shared experiences with hurricanes Irene and Isaac and the most recent - Hurricane Sandy. Having already reported on Hurricane Irene, Cantore said he knew the ropes and the ground he stood on before going in, but it still surprised him. He felt concern for the citizens and was relieved when the mayor finally issued a hurricane warning and evacuation orders.
"It was a tough storm; it was unprecedented territory," he said. "There were cars bobbing around ... it was like a movie set, but this is real life going on."
The storms are getting more extreme and the weather and climate are changing, Cantore stated. To him it's clear that human activities are one of the reasons for it. A question from the audience asked what could be done to educate others on this topic.
"This conference has done a lot to help that," Eck replied. He also admitted that he was "one of those meteorologists" that didn't believe in climate change. There's a difference between climatology and meteorology, he explained, which are different sciences with different perspectives. Meteorologists tend to look day by day or week by week, while climatologists will look at sections of thousands of years at a time. The issue climate change also became politicized, which he cites as a reason it's become a difficult topic.
"I just don't think the earth operates like that with so many storms, unless something is changing," Cantore said. "The clues are out there, we just need to pick them up."
He cited data presented by Jennifer Francis at a discussion earlier in the day about the connection between climate change the disappearance of ice in the Arctic sea. As he showed one of her clips showing how the ice has melted and disappeared from years past, the audience gasped and murmured.
"We can sit back and do nothing and wonder if this is all true, or we can do something," Cantore said.
After the discussion, a line of audience members formed to meet Cantore - shake his hand, ask him a few questions, and take a picture.
"I was extremely excited," said Brittony Corneillier, a Breckenridge local, about when she heard Cantore would be speaking. "Jim C is one of our favorite meteorologists." She said she likes him because "he's very straight to the point. He puts himself out there."
During the discussions, both Cantore and Eck noted how climatologists and meteorologists are coming together to discuss these important topics. The word "climate," for instance, was recently added to the summit's title. For Cantore, this coming together is both useful and enjoyable.
"It's the camaraderie, it's meeting and hanging out with my colleagues," he said of his favorite part of the conference. "We're all in this together."