LET IT SNOW
Meet John Homenuk, the Hottie Behind New York Metro Weather
On the gray, drizzly Monday morning when we sat down with John Homenuk, his viral Twitter account @nymetrowx reported “The vibes are a whole mess.” Blustery winds and the threat of a wintry mix earned the day a vibe rating of 3/10, sparking discourse in the replies; some defended the cozy virtues of a chilly day, while others argued for a demotion to a 1/10. Thanks to New York Metro Weather’s 75k-strong community of meteorology buffs, getting heated about the weather is no longer restricted to boomer parents screaming at Al Roker through their TV screens. Homenuk’s quippy, no-nonsense tweets make him the perfect weatherman for the Internet age, and with his casual but comprehensive 280-character reports, he is on a mission to get his followers “to pay as much attention on a sunny day as they do during a stormy day.” On day 320 of New York’s now-record breaking snowless streak, Homenuk called in for a surprisingly substantive conversation about work and the weather.
CAITLIN LENT: Hi John. I’m going to begin with some non-weather related small talk. How did you start your day?
JOHN HOMENUK: I had some calls. In addition to New York Metro Weather, I have a consulting meteorology business. We provide detailed weather forecasts to farmers or construction companies, ski resorts, hedge funds that are trading commodities like corn or soybeans, things like that. Anything you can imagine where the weather impacts what they do on a daily basis.
LENT: There are definitely very few things that the weather doesn’t impact. Where are you from?
HOMENUK: I grew up on the South Shore of Brooklyn. Then I moved out to Scotch Plains, New Jersey for high school. I went to Kean University right near Elizabeth [New Jersey]. Nowadays I split time between New York City and Minneapolis, which is where we have our hub for our agriculture business. I’m either there or here and back and forth depending on what the heck is going on.
LENT: So you’re bisecting coastal.
HOMENUK: [Laughs] Yeah. In the summertime I get to be out in the plains. I do some photography and storm chasing too, which is really cool. And I work with a nonprofit called Sirens Project just for disaster relief. We try to contribute on that side because I feel like if we’re out there doing storm chasing then we can be part of the recovery, too.
LENT: You predict the weather, you’re inside the storm, and you help in the aftermath. That’s pretty great.
HOMENUK: We’re the first and last people there.
LENT: So you said you grew up in South Brooklyn. What neighborhood do you live in now?
HOMENUK: Now I’m in Jersey City, but I spend a lot of time in New York, too. And then the apartment in Minneapolis. Kind of all over the place.
LENT: How did your interest in the weather start?
HOMENUK: The memory that I have is, I was living in Brooklyn. We lived in Mill Basin down by Kings Plaza, way down Flatbush Avenue, and there was just this crazy storm when I was probably seven or eight. I’m an only child, and I just remember my parents grabbed me out of bed and brought me down to the basement. I remember feeling super helpless and I hate that feeling. I was completely out of control of what was going on. That’s what drove the interest in learning how to figure out how it all works.
LENT: How does one learn how to predict the weather?
HOMENUK: I went to meteorology school at Kean University. But before that, I learned very quickly that there was actually a community of people on the internet taking an interest in meteorology. I graduated high school in 2008, that was the boom of internet forums. I was really fortunate, people were really nice and they helped me learn. I learned even before I went into college, I learned a lot just on my own, just reading on the internet and practicing and figuring it all out. I spent a lot of time in high school being really lame and looking at weather maps.
LENT: So you grew up on the internet. But when did you decide to start sharing weather updates on Twitter? Why that outlet, specifically?
HOMENUK: Originally it was a blog. I had a Blogspot, if you remember that, from way back in the day. But I just picked up on the fact that forums were changing, social media was becoming a thing. Facebook was never great for it, but Twitter to me checked a lot of boxes because it’s chronological, it’s of the moment. If I post a warning, people will see it. It’s interactive, it’s discussion-based. I think we created our account in 2009. It was trial and error. We did a lot of just posting to nobody for a while.
LENT: How did you find your voice for the account? What was the process of landing on that fun, conversational tone?
HOMENUK: I don’t remember the exact example, but there were just a couple times that I was just really straightforward. I was just like, “I have no idea what’s going to happen,” and people loved that. The people who followed me were like, “Finally, someone’s honest with us.” And that was a tip off to me, because it all clicked in my head. We’re in New York, people just want to know what the weather’s going to be like. They’re fascinated to learn about it, but at the same time they don’t want the BS. They just want to know what’s coming, and if there’s uncertainty, just tell them that. If you don’t know exactly how many inches of snow are going to fall, it’s fine. But I think that’s the problem we run into with the meteorologists on TV. I respect them, I’m not trying to go against them, but I’m saying a lot of times the graphics that are posted—it’ll show New York and the map will say 12.3 inches [of snow], and I’m like, “How does that help us?”
LENT: Is it harder to predict the weather or write a funny tweet?
HOMENUK: Honestly, I’m not trying to be funny at all. The weather itself is just a joke at this point.
HOMENUK: Especially in the last six months, I feel like our weather has been so bad. Then when it’s not bad, it’s a 10 out of 10. So everyone’s partying and it’s amazing. But now we’re in this stretch of every day being a two out of 10 and it’s just like—ugh. I feel like it just kind of comes naturally. I live here, I’m one of the people, I experience it too. I’m just as tired of it as everyone else, so it just comes across that way.
LENT: You do a lot of consulting on weather all across the country. But most people on the internet know you as a New York weatherman. What makes the city such a compelling case study?
HOMENUK: New York has a very unique climate. It’s positioned in the mid-latitudes, so we get very variable weather as it is. The seasons are dramatically different. But then we have the ocean right near us and the mountains are not too far away either. We’re not all that far from Canada, so it can get pretty cold, but we’re also near the mid-Atlantic so it can get hot. Even within the city. On a summer day, it could be like 60 degrees at JFK and 90 degrees in Central Park, which is crazy. The New York Metro Weather model does not work in San Diego, where it’s 75 and sunny every day.
LENT: We’re all out in the city all the time, we have to walk to get where we’re going. We experience the weather more acutely.
HOMENUK: Exactly. I mean, Minneapolis has very variable weather as well. They have very hot summers and obviously really cold winters. The weather can be beautiful, it could be terrible, but there’s less in the way of walking outside. There’s a lot of people driving around, so the interest level is definitely lower than it is in New York.
LENT: That makes a lot of sense. What goes into predicting the weather, if you could put it in layman’s terms?
HOMENUK: Early on in the process, you want to get your bearings. So you look at observations, right? What’s going on right now, satellite, radar, current conditions, what’s the temperature in New York, what’s the satellite look like across the whole Northeast? But then, largely you’re using a forecast model guidance, which is a computer simulating the atmosphere. Which, right off the bat, is going to be wrong in some way because the atmosphere works as a fluid and the computer cannot a hundred percent properly simulate that. There’s 40 different weather models and they all show something different and it’s chaos. So a lot of our job is figuring out where we’re at, using the models as guidance and building our forecast from there and trying to figure out which ones make the most sense. And where meteorologists get in trouble is when they just use one model or they just use an algorithm and try to figure out what’s going to happen and just let it roll through a computer. That’s not going to work. So, a lot of the process is going through the models and trying to figure out which one will work best.
LENT: You mentioned that some weather reporters only use one model. What’s another weather pet peeve that bothers you?
HOMENUK: Where do I start? I think the worst one for me is when people don’t include proper context. So, the polar vortex thing is a great example. It’s a buzzword. It does exist, but people don’t provide the context. When you hear the polar vortex is coming, there’s so much more that needs to be said to understand what that really means. The actual polar vortex is not coming over New York. It’s just a piece of a piece of a part of it that happens to be coming down, and that kind of stuff just annoys me so much because I’m like, “You are doing that just to get clicks on your website.”
LENT: Do you believe in a 10-day weather forecast?
HOMENUK: I feel like as you get out past six days, it’s really dicey. Especially for specifics, right? If you want to look 10 days in advance, I could probably give you a range of temperature, precipitation, whatever. But to look at 10 days from now and put an actual temperature on it, down to the degree, is insane.
LENT: I’ve seen websites claiming to tell you what temperature it’s going to be at 4:00 PM next Thursday. That can’t possibly be correct.
HOMENUK: Not real, not real!
LENT: Something I really love about New York Metroweather are these daily vibe ratings. What makes a day a 10-out-of-10, and what makes it a zero out of 10? What’s the vibe rubric, essentially?
HOMENUK: So, there’s definitely some room for maneuvering. It’s not like I plug it into this formula. But to me, a 10-out-of-10 day weather-wise, no matter what the season, is going to be 65 to 75 degrees, low humidity, no clouds, no rain, light winds.
HOMENUK: I mean it’s perfect. So I take that and I build off of there. There’s a lot of context that goes into it. Okay, it’s January. So, it’s crappy, if this day happened in July, it’d probably be a one or two out of 10, but it’s a three because it’s January. But there’s no way a day like today could be higher than a three or four. Because it’s just simply not nice out. You have to go put boots on and a jacket and it stinks. A 10-out-of-10 to me is a day when you’re going outside and you can gleefully stroll to a happy hour in your jeans and a T-shirt and be just fine. It’s like, “What are we going to experience when we go outside?” There are people that love the cold and I get it, that’s great. But I hate to break it to you, a really cold day is not a 10-out-of-10 day in New York City. If 40 and cloudy is an eight to you, you should live in Winnipeg because you can just do that forever. I’m serious.
LENT: So, this has been a record-breaking year for New York weather. We’ve had some of the highest highs, and we haven’t had any snow yet. Does that make you nervous? Or excited?
HOMENUK: Crazy weather does not excite me. It definitely is something that meteorologists deal with though, because the truth of the matter is that when the weather is bad, people pay more attention. I try to fight that as much as possible. My goal is for people to pay as much attention on a sunny day as they do during a stormy day. But I wouldn’t say “nervous,” I think I’m just paying a lot of attention, because there’s a lot of different ways that this can go.
LENT: Is weather a science or a feeling?
HOMENUK: Both. Weather is definitely a science. There is so much technicality to meteorology. So many dynamic equations and atmospheric thermodynamics and I could cover my whole wall with formulas. But, there’s a certain amount of feeling that’s involved in meteorology that I think it needs to be spoken to as well. You feel the weather when you walk outside, you feel the vibe of the day based on what the weather is like. And to some extent, when I’m forecasting, I feel what’s going to happen as opposed to maybe what the model shows on a daily basis.
LENT: In a perfect world, every New Yorker is reading your Twitter account. But for a day-to-day reference, what is the best weather app?
HOMENUK: Other than going to our account and reading the forecast, I really like the CARROT Weather app. It’s just really well done, you can choose where you get your source information from. And you can choose how they read the forecast off to you. You can make it super snarky or whatever. And they have really good data. It’s really solid and they build out their algorithm well so that it’s pretty accurate. CARROT is the only one that I use routinely that I really enjoy.
LENT: I’m going to check that out.
HOMENUK: Tell CARROT I will take my commission whenever they’re ready.
LENT: Absolutely. [Laughs] Just to wrap things up, I’m going to run through just a few weather scenarios and I would love for you to tell me where the best place to be during each them is.
LENT: Crisp fall day.
HOMENUK: I find myself outside of the city a little, which I hope people don’t get offended by. I would probably be doing a foliage thing in North Jersey or Southern New York for the day.
LENT: That sounds great. Thunderstorm?
HOMENUK: When the storm is coming in, I am near Brookfield Place, on the water over there where all those yachts come in. You can go stand right on the edge and watch it roll over the river. A lot of times you can see the rain on the river coming towards you. It’s really cool. And then when it starts to rain, you’re really close to being in a building so you can go inside as well.
LENT: I don’t think I’ve ever watched a storm come in. Summer humidity, where are you when it gets really gross and sticky?
HOMENUK: I like the city in the summer. I mean the subway sucks, but the rest of it is fine. I’m probably getting a nice coffee and walking around downtown, or maybe going to the park. I run a lot and I run well when it’s warmer out, which is strange.
LENT: Last but not least, our long-awaited blizzard. Where do you want to be?
HOMENUK: Well, it will never happen again.
LENT: Snow is canceled.
HOMENUK: [Laughs] Okay, I think I’m just in the city. I love the vibe of New York during a snowstorm. Everything’s a little more quiet, there’s this weird sense of community that happens in the stores and the bars. It’s fun, the restaurants are all cozy and cool, so maybe I’ll go get some ramen or something and just walk around. Put on my winter gear and just take it all in. New York City’s last snow of all time. I’m kidding.
LENT: [Laughs] Stay dry, John.
HOMENUK: Thanks, Caitlin.