Ken McNatt and the Mid-Ohio Valley Weather Update
Journalist Charles Dudley Warner is alleged to have once complained that, while everyone likes to talk about the weather, no one seems to do anything about it. Or maybe it was Mark Twain. Depends on who you ask. At any rate, the MOV has someone who is actually doing something about the weather, even if it is just to make the predicting of it more accurate and more accessible. That someone is Mr. Ken McNatt of the Mid-Ohio Valley Weather Update.
McNatt is a former 6th grade math and social studies teacher at Blennerhassett Middle School, but he’s always had a fascination with the weather. “I’ve always been interested in weather. At one point I wanted to be a TV meteorologist.” He had hoped to go to school for that, but it didn’t work out, so he instead went to Clarion University and studied education and mass media. His interest in all things meteorological never waned, though.
What would eventually become the MOVWU started out as a hobby. He was known by his fellow teachers to be so accurate in his weather forecasts that they would come to him when they wanted to know what to expect. The reason, McNatt said, so many of his colleagues came to him was because of a dearth of accurate weather information for the Mid-Ohio Valley. He complained to friends in media, but nothing was done, so he decided to do something himself.
This led to the Mid-Ohio Valley Weather Update Facebook page. It started as a community information page, but it quickly became clear that people were visiting for weather information so that became the main thrust. It was just McNatt for the first two years until he took on Nick Dunn, who is now the second lead forecaster for the team. Over the years, their numbers have grown as has the quality of the page. One thing that has really helped has been attending conferences, where an important thing they learned was that weather forecasting is as much about the social sciences as it is about science. They started asking how they could get the message out most effectively to get people to take action. And one of the ways is to have consistently accurate, timely weather information.
The more focused an area is, the better off we are.
There are several benefits to having forecasts made by local people, according to McNatt. One of them is that someone who is actually here knows our patterns and our atmosphere. Someone who is on top of the situation is going to be much more accurate than someone sitting ninety miles away looking at a radar screen. The bigger an area an entity like The Weather Channel is covering, the less likely they are to be accurate. Tornado events, for instance, are sometimes missed altogether by distant weather predictors. One such event took place during Memorial Day weekend in 2019, where there was an outbreak of tornadoes near Dayton. McNatt and his team covered it from the beginning, though it was never mentioned on The Weather Channel until after the fact. “The more focused an area is, the better off we are,” McNatt said.
Despite the name, MOVWU doesn’t just cover weather. They also post information about traffic, utility outages, and missing children. The last item is a passion project for McNatt. In 1992, a classmate of his was kidnapped and brutally murdered. “It took ten years to find the people who did it, and my mother was the one who handled the media for the family.” Her involvement in the situation had an effect on her son. “The family held a vigil and my mother was the advocate for the family with the media and did an outstanding job with it.” Her example sticks with him to this day. “I decided to honor the legacy of this child…and also honor the work my mother did by using the platform that I have to find missing children.”
While McNatt says they do face logistical challenges, such as our area being far away from the center of the range of radar satellites, they can often be more accurate about what is to come and what is happening at the moment by having boots on the ground, so to speak. By having a virtual army of volunteers reporting in on conditions all over the valley, MOVWU can better prepare the people of our area to react quickly and appropriately to weather events. And McNatt is happy about that, as he loves both the study of weather and community service. Life circumstance make it nearly impossible to be out serving in the community, but his organization is, “one excellent way for me to give back.”
Though they are exclusively on social media for the time being, something that frustrates McNatt, he hopes to have news soon about an exciting new development. While he could not share exactly what the development was, he was quite enthusiastic. Whenever it does come to fruition, it promises to be of great quality and to make a positive impact on the entire Mid-Ohio Valley.