Many of you come here for a brief respite from the daily grind, an old memory freshened up, maybe a laugh out loud or two (depending on who is posting, YMMV), even to see if we are running out of steam yet (hardly; well, maybe). But this post is no laughing matter as NMB sat down for our first celebrity interview with Facebook Celebrity Weatherman Cotton Clarke. Not My Boys have been following Cotton's weather posts on Facebook for quite some time and we were disappointed when he got off The Book due to the election posts. When we decided we would do an interview series Cotton was on a short list for our first interview along with Witch Annie, the guy who used to answer the phone at the Stone Castle, and the guy who used to walk around with the boombox, but those other three Greenville legends could not be reached for comment. Not My Boys were also nervous about whether Cotton would consent to our request; Brandt and Reid had approximately 28 phone calls to see who would reach out to Cotton first before finally it was decided that Brandt would contact Cotton's wife Ann to show respect for the big man's time. Ann was cautious as a wife should be when randomly contacted on Facebook messenger on a week night by a man asking to interview her husband for his blog (dang, that looks bad in print), but after Reid put him on the spot at a Santa dinner for children Cotton graciously agreed to meet us at the Grateful Brew on a Saturday afternoon to open us up to his weather world.
Cotton is a local financier who has come to be known for his "hobby" (read: second job) of winter weather predictions and analysis for a Facebook following eager for non-commerical weather insight. He is a Columbia native, a married father of two, and a man who is just in love with low pressure, cold noses, and NAM/Euro model agreement.
Our goal was to post this for the first day of winter (December 21). When Reid mentioned this to Cotton at the start of the interview, Cotton responded that meteorological winter started December 1 - and we knew we had come to the right place.
For those of you that may not know a Facebook weather celebrity is walking the same streets you do, here is a little taste of what you have been missing. We will first start with how hard it is it is to deny the people what they want; Cotton once attempted to "give up the weather" for Lent but the struggle was much greater than any man could handle:
Printed below is the extensive interview in a "Q and A" format. Note that the Qs don't represent the exact questions and the As don't represent the exact answers. We were playing by the horseshoes and hand grenades rule - close enough - and we have added in our own commentary. In addition, this is the first ever joint NMB post so just relax and take it all in while dreaming of the pool you are going to install with the Christmas bonus from work.
Q. Cotton, thank you for sitting down with us. What's been going on?
A. Actually, I am tracking a storm right now for next weekend. (Of course you are.)
[update: this storm brought fractional ice to the area on December 16/17 - we are off to a good start].
Q. Where does the name Cotton come from?
A. Gossypium is the cotton genus. It belongs to the tribe Gossypieae, in the mallow family, Malvaceae, native to the tropical and subtropical regions from both the Old and New World.
Sorry, wrong Cotton. The Cotton we interviewed is known by the government as Arnold Harvey Clarke, III. His grandfather's nickname was Cotton and his other grandfather was in the cotton business, so since around 3 months of age Arnold became known simply as Cotton. Because "Little Arnold" was never going to work for this mountain of a man.
Q. When did you first become interested in the weather?
A. Probably around 5 or so. I remember going out during a thunderstorm and seeing lightning and thinking about the electrical power that was present. I decided to conduct an experiment by flying a kite with a house key attached to a string and the string attached to a Leyden jar. It was during this experiment that I discovered the electrical nature of lightning. Ok, that was Ben Franklin, but Cotton did become interested in the weather around 5 years of age.
It was not until Hugo in 1989 that the mild interest in weather really blossomed. "I remember walking outside during 100 mph winds and thinking, wow...this is awesome!"
Q. Do you have seasonal interest in the weather or is it year round?
A. I track systems year round but more intensely in winter.
Q. Did you ever think about turning your interest in the weather into a career?
A. No, never really thought about making a career out of the weather. I have no formal training in the art of forecasting. (Just to be clear, he also stated he has never informally studied weather at the secret weather boot camp held in a bunker on the Justus Family Orchard.) I always wanted to be a stockbroker.
Q. Do you have a weather hero and have you met this hero?
A. Yes, Jim Gandy out of Columbia. He got Hugo right. I rode in a car with him once but we didn't talk weather.
Q. Where do you turn to for your weather information?
A. Note: We are about to discuss places on the internet that the average man or women has never been. Places that I am sure involve top secret servers located in government bunkers in New Mexico. These places are weather message boards.
Weatherbell.com is the go-to for all the models. Before you common folk go googling weatherbell please understand that to gain access to the models you must pay $25 a month. Talkweather.com is another strong site. Don't think for a second these sites don't have internet trolls, just like any other message board. "It's never going to rain," exclaims one troll. Cotton wisely stated that even though we had a long drought of rain this year, a broken clock is right twice a day. So while Cotton was willing to share wise idioms with us, he was not willing to divulge his screenname. So we only can assume it is WarmNose29605.
Q. How much time would you say you spend a week studying the weather?
A. 5 hours.
Q. So like 10 or 15 hours?
Q. It seems like the weather people on TV are wrong often, what makes our region so hard to predict?
A. For snow in the south you need a lot of things to go right. We are on the same latitude as the Sahara Desert. (Brandt has been telling everyone this is the reason for the recent drought.) Greenville is different than Spartanburg, Spartanburg is different than Anderson.
At least 90% of our snows are Miller A systems. Low pressure tracks the Gulf then goes up our coast and the mountains block the snow. We are also a CAD (Cold Air Damming) region. High pressure sends cold air in the Atlantic and then into the moutains. We are then more supectible to ice.
(Please note at this point Cotton might as well have been speaking Portuguese, so we put the accuracy of the last paragraph at roughly 15%.)
Q. The mythical I-85 corridor. Explain.
A. I-85 was an old wagon trail. (We did confirm he meant horse-drawn wagons and not station wagons.) The wagon trail was built in the easiest spot, at the base of the mountains. It is just a natural dividing line.
Q. What is the difference between freezing rain, frozen rain, and sleet?
A. Imagine Cotton looking at you with a look of digust, his eyes screaming, "What is this . . . Amateur Hour!," as you read this answer.
Freezing rain comes down as rain and the surface temp is frozen, so the rain then freezes when it hits. Frozen rain is in the process of becoming snow, but has melted at some point and yet to refreeze. Sleet is a combo of frozen rain, snow, and freezing rain. It is the closet to being snow.
Q. Is there a snow heaven?
A. We don't know whether Cotton knows the answer to this question because we didn't ask it, but he does know where snow goes to die - 850 millibars. The temperature there - about 5,000 feet above sea level - is very important.
Q. Does it have to be 32 degrees or colder to snow?
A. Is that a serious question?
A. No. No it does not. If there is a cold nose at 850 millibars it could snow with a ground temperature of 40 degrees. On the other hand a warm nose at 850 will break up snow that should be coming.
Q. How far out is too far out to start tracking?
A. I track systems worldwide, but generally the earliest to start looking with any kind of accuracy is the 15 day model, and the accuracy is only about 10 percent. At 10 days the verification creeps up and at 5 days you start getting a little confidence. I am confident 24-12 hours out.
Q. Is there an effective cut-down to someone within the weather community?
A. Snow weeny - someone who loves snow so overpredicts it.
Q. Walk us through the models.
A. We have a taxpayer funded weather model called GFS. It is just OK. The Euro is private model and it is the best. Weatherbell is based on the Euro but by contract cannot use the Euro data without putting it through their own models. The NAM is a short term model which only looks two or so days out before an event. If the NAM and the Euro agree then you are looking at about 95% accuracy.
Q. Remember that time you joined the [weather] mile high club? That was awesome.
Q. Best Personal Call? (also known as our favorite)
That was the earliest snow on record in Greenville and I called it correctly.
Q. Biggest personal miss and what did you learn from it?
A. Enron. Oh you meant weather. I would have to say January 2016. We all got that wrong. I will never again rely on a storm to create its own cold temperatures.
Q. Biggest frustration?
A. The "my back yard" question. If I answer one I get innundated.
Q. What is one tip for your average person to improve their weather experience?
A. Use the Weather Underground app and put in KGMU (Greenville downtown airport) not your zip code. Also follow the bulletins from the National Weather Service in Greer.
Q. We don't want to ask "why do you do this" but . . . why do you do this?
A. It gives me joy. I think it is fun. I have built up a nice following of people.
[Note: the above was Cotton's actual answer but it should have been "why do y'all have a blog? Same reason I do this."]
Q. What do you love more, the snow or the chase?
A. The chase.
Q. Who is the best local weather person and the worst when it comes to predicting?
A. [an off the record conference was had about the local meteorlogists, known to those on the inside as "Mets"]
Q. Why are some Mets better than others - aren't they all looking at the same thing?
A. No. Some rely more on computer models than others.
Q. Words to live by?
A. It is a hobby not a profession, so don't shoot the messenger and don't forget we live in the Southeast. Snow is a magical and wonderful thing that does not happen often. And snow after 24 hours is no good for work.
Q. OK, moment of truth. Predict the 2016/2017 winter.
A. It is going to be pretty cold, probably 2 to 3 degrees below normal. If you look in the Arctic it is warm right now (record low amount of ice). The Polar Vortex is split in half, with part in Russia (way below normal temperatures) and the other half in Canada. As long as we don’t get a trough in Alaska that will funnel in the cold I am expecting 2 to 3 storms, 8 inches of total snowfall. There is only a slight chance of a white Christmas.
Interviewers' note: We are appreciative of Cotton's time and indulging us in this ongoing folly that continues to strain our marriages. He is a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley; check him out by clicking here and give him a friend request on Facebook to get in on the action. Because the election is over and he is back on Facebook.
Personal message to Cotton: After crunching numbers from our marketing budget of zero, we are going to need to be reimbursed for the beer. Would it be best to send invoice to house or office or NWS?
Filed/BG and RS