digest_3Q Bettes
Ohio Life

Mike Bettes on Weather Reporting in a Changing Climate

The Weather Channel meteorologist talks storm-chasing and growing up in Ohio.

As a boy, Mike Bettes would often join his father in the garage of their Tallmadge home to experience the sights and sounds of thunderstorms rolling through the neighborhood.

“I thought it was very, very cool,” says Bettes, the on-camera meteorologist and lead tornado tracker for The Weather Channel. He has been with the network since 2003. “Living in northeast Ohio, it was natural for us to be interested in the weather.”

During Ohio’s infamous blizzard of 1978, Bettes got his first look at what would become a lifelong fascination: extreme weather.

“My sister and I were glued to the TV, watching [Cleveland meteorologist] Dick Goddard telling us if we would be having school or not,” he says.

We talked with Bettes — host of The Weather Channel’s “Weather Underground” — about his Buckeye State roots, his brush with death as a storm chaser and global warming. 

Why did you decide to attend The Ohio State University to pursue a career in meteorology?
Well, any kid that’s raised in Ohio is raised on Buckeye football. I really enjoyed math and science, so I decided to be a meteorologist. At that time, Ohio State was the only school in the state that offered an atmospheric sciences program. I sure as heck wasn’t going to Michigan.

You have covered several hurricanes and massive storms, including a 2013 tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma, that threw your SUV 200 yards into a field. How has this affected your reporting?

In some instances, these [storms] are life-changing events for people and they have totally changed me as a broadcaster. The defining moment for me was the Joplin, [Missouri,] tornado. … I had never seen a dead body in my life until that moment. It can be overwhelming. In Oklahoma, we witnessed the largest tornado in U.S. history. It accelerated, expanded and intensified all at once. My life literally flashed before my eyes. I thank my lucky stars every day.

Why have we seen a marked increase in extreme weather events in recent years?

We can no longer say the weather is normal. It all speaks to a warming planet, and we’re going to go through more extremes. [Last year] was by far the warmest year ever recorded globally. Parts of Miami Beach flood at high tide every day now. We’re having longer, more impactful droughts. Ohio started off with a very warm winter, but don’t be surprised if February drops 100 inches of snow. It’s the new normal.

“Weather Underground” airs on The Weather Channel. For more information, visit weather.com.