Al Roker is up to his neck in extreme weather.
The “TODAY” co-host and weatherman is currently promoting his new book “Al Roker’s Extreme Weather” while leading the NBC daytime series’ coverage of last week’s catastrophic hurricane Harvey and the newly developed hurricane Irma, which is now barreling down on the Caribbean.
“The idea that we could have two category four or higher storms hitting in the same season has never happened before,” Roker told me during an interview this morning. “This is really kind of unprecedented. We’ve gone 12 years since having a major hurricane strike the United States. To have two major storms just gives you an idea, in a sense, of the randomness, but also we have been seeing an increase in more extreme weather events.”
And while these extreme weather events—not to mention recent wildfires in the western U.S. and catastrophic flooding in Africa—appear to be more common, Roker is quick to note that climate change is not necessarily the sole culprit.
“I do believe there is climate change going on, but I’m also one of those people who says you cannot point to every event that happens and say, ‘Oh, that’s because of climate change,’” Roker explained. “What climate change does is increase your probability for more extreme weather, for greater swings in weather, for greater fluctuations. But can we say definitively, because you have these two major hurricanes back-to-back, that this is because of climate change? No. Can I think that maybe it has something to do with it? Probably.”
Hurricanes—or cyclones and typhoons as they’re known in other regions of the world—are among the many extreme weather events dissected and explained in Roker’s new book. Recommended for kids ages 8-12, the colorful, photo-packed, 48-page book is separated into three main sections examining storms (tornadoes, dust storms, hailstorms, etc.), dangerous conditions (drought, fog, extreme heat and cold) and the aftermath of weather phenomenon (floods, wildfires, landslides and avalanches).
The book also details strange, rare and fascinating weather occurrences such as red sprites, gustnados, derechos, fogsicles and lahars, and includes a list of record-breaking weather incidents.
“When I’ve talked to teachers, they tell me that the one topic elementary school kids love and wanna explore is weather,” Roker said. “I finally thought this is kind of a coming together—the extreme weather and a time to write a book for young kids. That’s why we came up with ‘Al Roker’s Extreme Weather.’”
For more on the new book, check out the rest of my interview with Al Roker below:
David Onda: There are, of course, plenty of weather-related books out there. What void did you want to fill with “Extreme Weather”?
Al Roker: I don’t know that there was anything missing. I just wanted to bring a sense of wonder to the idea of weather for kids. One of the people that I admire greatly is Bill Nye. He’s one of those guys who takes science and makes it like, “Gee-whiz. Oh, my gosh.” You’re way too young to remember this guy, but probably your grandparents do—he was a guy named Mr. Wizard, who was on television. He made science fun. If he were coming up today, he’d be on YouTube. He’d be a YouTube sensation, because he did what would probably be considered viral videos today with experiments of how you make a volcano or how you can create a tornado in a bottle. And that’s what I’m trying to bring to the pages of the book.
Onda: When you meet kids, do you find there’s still an interest in growing up and becoming a meteorologist, or is that a profession that’s dropped out of favor?
Roker: No, I still see these kids who really—in fact, probably more so now, it’s cool to be into science. Back when I was coming up, we were the nerds. We were not the cool kids. The cool kids are the science kids now, the kids who are into STEM—the science, technology, engineering, math. And it’s not just guys, it’s young women, young girls who are into this.
Onda: Your role with “TODAY” has expanded beyond weather over the last decade, but would you say weather is still among your first passions?
Roker: One of my mentors is Willard Scott, and one of the things he always told me was, “Everything comes out of what you do on the ‘TODAY Show’ with weather. You can do all these different things, but the weather is what people know you for. Embrace that.” And I do. I love what I do. Every day is different. And trying to come up with different ways to present the weather and make it interesting. I love doing it.
Onda: Can you tell me about the process of actually researching, writing and picking these beautiful photos for “Extreme Weather”? How long did it take?
Roker: I’ll be honest, the photos—we had a researcher find those because I don’t know how to do that stuff. That’s the secret to success. Let the people who do what they do best do it. You focus on what you do. I’m not a publisher. I know certain ideas and I have concepts and I know my weather stuff, but the way to make it visually appealing—that was all done by the fine folks at our publisher. But it took about a year to put together.
Onda: Did you learn anything new about a weather phenomenon while writing the book?
Roker: I didn’t realize that—with dust storms or haboobs—that they were occurring with such great frequency or increasing frequency in the desert southwest here in the United States. When I had first heard about haboobs, they were more in the Sahara and the sub-Saharan desert regions, but more and more we’re seeing them here in the U.S.
Onda: Do you have a favorite section or chapter of “Extreme Weather”?
Roker: You know, it’s like, “Who’s your favorite kid?” I love it all. This is not to denigrate anybody who lives in Southern California or places like that, but I really do love seasons. Every season has its beauty, and so that’s what I love about the book.
Onda: You mentioned that you wrote this book for kids, but would you say adults will enjoy it as well?
Roker: If you are an adult and either have kids or know kids or have a kid in your life, you need this book. One of the kids in your life is gonna ask you a weather question, and instead of Googling it, look it up and set an example for your kids that you can still find out things from books.
Onda: There’s a famous video of you getting tossed around by the wind gusts of Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Is that the most extreme weather you’ve experienced first-hand?
Roker: Yes. It absolutely was. I’ve been through some major storms. I would also say [hurricane] Sandy. It wasn’t on camera, but we just got off of a sand dune, and 15 minutes later, it was gone. We could have been in a world of trouble had we still been on that sand dune.
“Al Roker’s Extreme Weather” is available at bookstores and online retailers now.