The Jim Cantore effect: What it means when the iconic meteorologist shows up in your city

Wherever Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore goes, you probably won’t want to be there for long. The location of the iconic broadcast meteorologist has become synonymous with severe snowstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes over the past three decades. 

Where is Cantore now? That’s up to Mother Nature, according to his Twitter account.

At last check, the famous forecaster was spotted in Punta Gorda, Florida, as the state’s west coast braced for a hit from the massive Hurricane Ian. “This will be one of the strongest hurricanes in southwest Florida history,” Cantore tweeted Wednesday.

Known as “the original Weather Channel StormTracker,” according to his Instagram, the certified broadcast meteorologist and American Meteorological Society fellow has served as the most recognizable “weather geek” at the Atlanta-based network for over 35 years.

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In this handout image provided by The Weather Channel, Jim Cantore reports on Hurricane Irene from Battery Park in New York City on Aug. 27, 2011.

He’s reported live from over 100 tropical systems, including Hurricanes Michael, Sandy, Harvey and Katrina, according to the Weather Hall of Fame. Hurricane Ian marks Cantore’s 109th storm, said Nora Zimmett, president of news and original series for the The Weather Group. 

“Jim never set out to be some sort of weather celebrity,” Zimmett told USA TODAY. “He’s just a science nerd who made it cool to be super smart and passionate about the weather.”

The mere presence of the severe weather expert in any given town has become a clue that a tornado, hurricane or other form of “mother nature’s latest temper tantrum” will soon strike.

Here’s what to know about Cantore and how he has become the symbol of severe weather.

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Who is Jim Cantore?

Cantore hails from Waterbury, Connecticut, and was raised in Vermont, according to his Weather Channel biography. He joined The Weather Channel in 1986 right after graduating from the former Lyndon State College, now known as Northern Vermont University.

The weather journalist anchors daily weather programming for the network. When he’s not working on weather-related documentaries, he’s often spotted in locations expected to take a hit from unfavorable conditions.

Cantore, who is certified by the American Meteorological Society, has won awards for his coverage, including an Emmy for using The Weather Channel’s Immersive Mixed Reality technology to showcase the dangers of tornadoes. He was inducted into the National Weather Museum and Science Center’s Weather Hall of Fame in 2018.

Jim Cantore, of The Weather Channel, does a live report at Crocker's Landing in Wilmington, North Carolina, before Hurricane Florence arrived. Thursday, Sept.13, 2018.

Why do people care where Cantore is during severe weather?

It has become a running gag in the world of weather that Cantore flocks to locations of impending meteorological doom for on-the-ground live coverage, and his presence ahead of and during severe weather events has served as a warning for locals.

In 2017 ahead of Hurricane Nate’s arrival in Perdido Key, Florida, a resident wrote on boards covering their window, “Go away, Jim Cantore.” 

At least one resident of Perdido Key, Fla., west of Pensacola had no love lost Oct. 7, 2017, for The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore, who has made a name chasing hurricanes and snow storms.

A Weather Channel clip from 2020 showed a drenched Cantore wading through calf-high waters of a flooded parking garage in Biloxi, Mississippi, as he showed viewers the extent of Hurricane Zeta’s impacts as they occurred.

He was also in Biloxi during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Zimmett said. 

“There was no one there to help, most people had been diverted to New Orleans,” she said. “His team helped evacuate veterans out of a residential facility there.”

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How does Cantore stay safe?

Cantore’s passion for severe weather has placed him in dangerous situations, but Zimmett said he has never been hurt. 

“We at the Weather Channel do not put people in harm’s way, and the times we have felt we’ve positioned (reporters) too close to the heart of the storm, we will move them if they don’t have sufficient cover,” Zimmett explained.

Cantore and other network crews will often wear Kevlar vests and have goggles and helmets to wear. Zimmett said they meet daily to ensure safety.  

The network makes sure to book hotels based on their locations’ risk of storm surge impacts, she added. 

A look at Cantore’s past weather coverage

Cantore has been on the scene of some of the most severe storms to hit the U.S., including 2018’s Hurricane Michael in Florida, where an infamous Weather Channel broadcast showed the meteorologist dodging debris and powerful winds as he gripped his microphone on live television.

He’s also covered: the devastation of deadly tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma, and Joplin, Missouri; major snowstorms; and countless hurricanes, including Ida in 2021.

His first live shot for the Weather Channel was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Cantore said in a Weather Channel interview.