Profile - Under the weather

Why did the weather forecaster move to another country? Because the weather didn’t agree with him.

With the benefit of hindsight, even Chris Brandolino can laugh at that.

Several months since swapping the United States for New Zealand, NIWA’s newest meteorologist has negotiated a new country, new city and new job with what appears to be all the easiness of a long, lazy summer afternoon.

The high price of good mozzarella is about the most disappointing aspect he can drum up after a long pause spent thinking about the downsides of his Kiwi lifestyle.

For a New Yorker with Italian heritage who loves making pizzas – and boasting about how tasty they are – this is a big deal. That, and an absence of decent dill pickles apparently.

But Brandolino is getting used to how we roll. He goes barefoot more often than not, corrects himself when he says vacation instead of holiday and, crucially now he’s an Aucklander, knows his flat white from his soy latte.

His NIWA colleagues are also getting to know him – as is the rest of New Zealand.

Brandolino is the new face of NIWA Weather. The 39-year-old has joined NIWA’s team of climate scientists to help the organisation fulfil its core responsibility to use its science to help people understand our climate.

This is not the first time NIWA has tasked a meteorologist with such a public role, but it is the first time it has employed a TV weatherman and former talk show host.

Brandolino, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from the State University of New York, has joined NIWA after several years on WSYR-TV in Syracuse, New York. Before that, he worked at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in Perth and also has many years’ experience as a TV meteorologist for a rival Syracuse station.

His forecasting stretches all the way back to his early school days. By age 6, he had already found his niche. At school he was constantly reprimanded by his teacher for staring at the sky out his classroom window. Eventually she realised what was captivating him, and asked him to provide a weather forecast to his classmates every lunchtime, in exchange for a penny.

A natural talker, and even more comfortable in front of an audience, each lunchtime he would stand on a chair in front of class and deliver his weather predictions.

“My mom said I was always checking out the clouds as a kid. It just went from there.”

His first break in television came about a month after he graduated, when a friend working at a Syracuse TV station phoned him up and suggested he apply for a part-time forecasting job.

He got the job and gradually worked his way up to becoming the station’s morning and midday forecaster, broadcasting several times a day to a huge audience.

“What I love about the weather is the power of nature. I really enjoy telling people about it and knowing that people depend on you when they’re making plans. It makes you feel like you have value and contribute to someone’s day-to-day life.”

He married wife Sarah in 2002, and the couple honeymooned in Sydney. They loved it and were determined to experience more of the Down Under lifestyle. In 2008, they moved to Perth with two-year-old daughter Sydney and six-month-old son Dominic, to enable Brandolino to take up a position at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

After two years, he was lured back to Syracuse and took up a role as a TV weather presenter and co-host of a morning talk show.

The pace was frenetic. He would be at work before 3am to study the latest weather maps and compile the graphics for his forecasts, which started on air at 5am.

Then, the station decided the show would begin at 4.30am and he found his days starting even earlier. As early as 2am he was studying weather maps, and by now with another child – a daughter named Sofia – he worried family life was starting to pass him by.

The opening at NIWA provided the perfect opportunity to gain a better work/life balance, as well as the opportunity to once again experience life in a new country.

He arrived in January, towards the end of the traditional Kiwi summer shutdown. TV stations were screening advertisements advising their news shows would resume shortly after being off air for a few weeks. He was shocked. “That would never happen in the US.”

His first few weeks at work were spent familiarising himself with the finer points of New Zealand. He studied the climate, Māori pronunciation and culture, and learned about historic extreme weather events such as the Wahine storm and Cyclone Bola.

And as he puts it, he spent time with colleagues ‘geeking out’ about the weather.

Then came the Christchurch floods, ex-Tropical Cyclone Ita and drought in Northland. These gave Brandolino a much more immediate perspective of the kinds of climate that New Zealanders are exposed to.

At the beginning of May, NIWA introduced him to the media, when he took over the role of responding to media enquiries about its monthly climate summary and seasonal outlook.

On his first television appearance, he explained the likelihood of an El Niño weather system developing later in the year and delivered some good news on winter temperatures.

In June he was part of the team promoting NIWA’s weather products tailored for farmers at the National Agricultural Fieldays at Mystery Creek, near Hamilton. NIWA is the official forecaster for Fieldays, and Brandolino provided hourly weather forecasts from the NIWA stage in the main pavilion, as well as introducing the new FarmMet forecasting service to farmers.

New Zealanders can expect to see a lot more of him – Brandolino plans to be wherever the weather is, explaining what’s going on and why.

Look out for him. He’s the one with the American accent and the long repertoire of weather jokes.


Shooting the breeze with Chris Brandolino

Do New Zealanders talk about the weather more than Americans? If so, why? 

Funny, I’ve been asked that question many times since arriving in the country. I would say no. Kiwis, Americans, Canadians, Australians, all nationalities talk about the weather. And we all talk about it a lot!

What do you like about our weather?

Trying to figure it out and then communicating the information.

What does slip, slop, slap mean to you?

A good night! But I think it might have something to do with sun protection.

What’s the best thing an American can do to adapt to the Kiwi lifestyle? 

Learn how to not be so uptight.

What perplexes you most about New Zealanders?

Loaded question, eh? I’ve observed in people a puzzling mix of the celebrated Kiwi friendliness and a reserved nature that is sometimes surprising.

Auckland or Wellington?

Tough. Really tough. I do enjoy Auckland’s climate. I LOVE the beach. However, I feel much more ‘at home’ in Wellington. Maybe it’s because of where I grew up, Wellington seems more like a natural fit with my personality (climate, landscape, etc.).

What’s the worst weather you’ve ever experienced?

Driving through heavy snow (where you literally can’t see 30 metres) is frightening, I think the worst is the 1998 Labour Day storm in New York State.

Wind gusts exceeded 190km/hr in some locations. I recall waking up to constant lightning at 12:30am and seeing a flag pole swaying left to right violently… and, for the first time, being legitimately scared during a thunderstorm. I was without power for an honest week.

You’ve also lived in Australia. Who’s nicer, Aussies or Kiwis?

Ouch, another loaded question. Will this be read only in New Zealand? If so, then Kiwis, of course!

What’s your favourite song that mentions the weather?

Some Like It Hot by the late, great Robert Palmer. I challenge anyone not to like it!

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NIWA's new forecaster, Chris Brandolino. [Geoff Osborne]