When most people take a vacation, they go to the shore, a tropical island, or maybe skiing.
WHSV-TV’s Meteorologist, Aubrey Urbanowicz, decided to use her vacation week to pursue a dream- she was going storm chasing!
Originally planned for 2020, covid put a damper on those plans. Finally, this year, the “chase-cation”, as they called it, was a go!
Storm spotting and storm chasing has quite an enthusiastic following. Aubrey felt that she wanted to experience some of the severe weather she reports on, up close and personal. The most dangerous, and apparently one of the most popular, to follow is a supercell thunderstorm. Most of us have probably seen at least one movie where a deadly storm is the main character in the storyline!
As Aubrey stated in her report, the reason she wanted to storm chase is because “I’m always in the studio and at work when we have a lot of storms. I wanted to see these storms better. To understand the supercell structure in person. To see the individual cells to make myself a better meteorologist, as well as communicate these storm threats better.”
It’s not as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. Storm chasing is hours of driving all over trying to capture that perfect storm! Her storm chasing group started in Nebraska and drove through Kansas, Colorado, and into New Mexico, to name a few . Aubrey said “In one week, we traveled 2,500 miles through 7 states.
So how did a girl from Connecticut, end up being the Chief Meteorologist for a local news channel in the Valley? If you live here, you are probably quite familiar with Aubrey and her little sidekick, Bear.
When asked when she first developed an interest in weather, Aubrey replied “I was working for Chili’s as a corporate trainer. I was part of a team that would travel around and open new stores. I started doing that in 2003. The following year, 2004, was the year Florida got hit by 4 hurricanes. Then, in 2005, there was Katrina and Rita. On store openings, I was actually in several of those storms. When Katrina made the shift from the Florida panhandle to Louisiana, I was just outside of New Orleans. We were able to be evacuated that Saturday and get flights out. I returned a few weeks later after the storm. Let’s just say, I started watching a lot of the Weather Channel in 2004 and 2005! I knew I did not want to stay in the restaurant industry, and needed a career that had odd hours or was not traditional. I couldn’t sit at a desk from 9-5.”
“I started looking into weather. I had absolutely no desire to be on television. In fact, I wanted to be behind the scenes, not in front of the camera.”
Aubrey started working for Chili’s when she was 17, first as a hostess, then bartender, then corporate openings. She was with the company for 12 years. Not going to college right after high school, she did take some community college courses along the way, still trying to figure out what she wanted to do.
“When I had the thought of getting into meteorology, I contacted the Chief Meteorologist in Johnson City, Tennessee, Mark Reynolds. He brought me into the station and showed me around. Again, I had NO desire to be on TV. He said you can do this, you have the voice for it, take a look at this program. So, after debating on that, I decided to enroll in Mississippi State and finish my degree for Meteorology.”
Eventually, she got an internship at Mark Reynold’s station. And that is where her career began!
Growing up in Connecticut, Aubrey recalls watching the Chief Meteorologist there, Geoff Fox. During school, she watched Janice Dean from Fox News, and later here, Sue Palka, Fox DC.
Even though she covers weather events, the evening of April 27, 2011 was a scary one for her.
There was a tornado outbreak, and Aubrey had only been with WHSV-TV for 6 months. As she recalls, “ I was off that day, scheduled to come in the next day and report on storm damage. I was watching the devastating storms across the south and then into eastern Tennessee. That evening, I was on my computer, on the phone with my brother and several friends when they were in their safe places. I was relaying info and letting them know if it was safe yet. I went to bed just as the thunderstorms were moving into our area, turning the tv to WHSV-TV before I turned it off, and leaving my window open. In the middle of the night, my phone went off with the warning, and I turned on the tv to see a big red blob over the part of Harrisonburg I lived in! Terrified, I ran to the bathroom to take shelter. I messaged my friend, a reporter for WHSV-TV, (who was from Iowa originally), telling her I was scared! Her response was, “No, this is cool- tornado coverage in Virginia!” I said not cool! Not everyone is from Iowa!”
Aubrey remembers how scared she as that night, even as a trained Meteorologist! “So, when I cover tornado warnings, I try to calm as many fears as I can, knowing how scary it can be!”
Along with being WHSV-TV’s Chief Meteorologist, Aubrey is also an NWA Sealholder. “This means I have completed the necessary requirements- experience, in addition to a written test and submission of weathercasts to be judged. To keep my seal, I have to continue my education with weather conferences, workshops, and other education to continue my development as a Meteorologist.”
Those of us of a certain age may recall when the terms weatherman and weather girl were used. In today’s world, “A Meteorologist is someone who is trained, someone who has schooling and experience to forecast the weather. Decades ago, not only was the science still developing, but the TV stations would put anyone in this position, and I think that is why a TV weather person never received a lot of respect. Many didn’t know how to forecast! The field has changed. You have to have a degree or equivalent to forecast. I don’t read from a prompter. I forecast. I make the graphics. I present the weather. I have the education to make a forecast. Weather forecasts will never be 100% perfect, but the science continues to improve. Every day with storms is different- they can have a mind of their own!”
If the weather forecast does not turn out, on occasion, as predicted, remember, we are dealing with Mother Nature, who can be fickle, and from time to time, unpredictable, even with the best science available. Aubrey has the ability and the education, giving the most reliable and precise weather forecast to her listeners.
We can’t forget to mention Aubrey’s sidekick, her little dog, Bear, who has a fan club all his own! He goes to work with his mommy quite often!
You can follow Meteorologist Aubrey Urbanowicz, WHSV-TV’s Chief Meteorologist, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you missed hearing about her storm chasing adventure on the evening news, you can see the video (published June 16, 2022) on her FB page, and on whsv.com.