Famed Meteorologist Bryan Norcross Remembers Hurricane Andrew

In August 1992, the biggest storm to hit Miami in over 60 years roared through the city. It destroyed  homes, claimed a few lives, and left more people injured. Many families remember the ferocity of the howling winds and the sounds of the branches cracking. Others still recall huddling in a closet with no windows underneath a mattress.

Through it all, the calming force for the community was a single male voice. If there’s one name that’s synonymous with Hurricane Andrew, it’s Bryan Norcross.

The spunky, well-spoken meteorologist first came to South Florida in the early 1980s. He worked for WPLG before his stint with WTVJ, then later moved to WFOR, and finally joined The Weather Channel in 2010.

“Really, through all of the ‘80s, hurricanes were not much discussed,” he remembers. Before Andrew in ‘92, we hadn’t seen a large storm in decades. Perhaps the biggest natural disaster of the century was the great hurricane of 1926. (Meteorologists didn’t start naming hurricanes until the 1950s). With every passing year, he felt that Miami was getting less and less prepared for tropical storms because such events weren’t on the top of our list.
While at WPLG (channel 10 at the time), he worked on a daily broadcast called Neighborhood Weather where he would spotlight a unique community story — as well as do the weather. He delved into the history of the Magic City, specifically hurricanes, during his research for the show. “I thought, If this happens again, we’re not ready.”

In 1990, when he joined WTVJ as their chief meteorologist, Norcross proposed that the station become the source for hurricane news. “We built this thing called the Storm Center and we did non-stop work over two and a half years.”

Along with his producer, Scott Sibers, the weatherman did plenty of useful segments. The station even put out a thick manual on preparedness guidelines, he says. Yet, one of his more successful accomplishments at the time was revolutionizing the way people tracked hurricanes on a map.

Before 1991, there would just be a paper with dots indicating a pattern. But that’s not very visually appealing. Norcross partnered with Charlie Newman, formerly from the National Hurricane Center who then lived in Pinecrest, and the two created the now familiar cone. “That was something that came out of the development of us planning for a hurricane, which we had not had a significant one since 1965 and the last threat was in 1979,” explains Norcross. It was all about being ready for a natural disaster — all the time.
He discovered that the two biggest concerns for people during a storm are power and getting information. “If the power goes out, all that people have left is the radio. Back at that time, people still had access to radio in their homes, not so much now,” he says with a slight laugh.

Ahead of his time, Norcross partnered with Y100 to have the audio of his broadcasts from WTVJ aired on the radio. “The discussion was all theoretical because nobody really had any experience with a big hurricane.” A connection between the two studios was put up and the radio station installed a phone that was specifically for Norcross. Think of a wall phone under a sign that reads “In Case of Emergency.”

Fast forward to August 1992. It was a pretty uneventful year in weather, according to Norcross, and meteorologists didn’t think much about a storm brewing off the coast. Five days before Andrew hit, the weatherman remembers telling viewers there was a “50/50 chance” the speck could mean trouble. With each passing day, however, he kept careful watch.

“Today, we would think about a storm warning three days ahead as being very close, but back then, we didn’t think about that being so close because we didn’t expect to have detailed forecasts many days out.”

Friday came and that was the big day, he says. This was a time before the internet and before our constant access to information at our fingertips. In fact, he himself didn’t receive information about weather patterns until that afternoon via a slow printing machine. When he saw the map print out, he realized there was a risk of the storm coming.

“The map didn’t forecast where the storm was going to go, rather it showed a general area,” he says, adding, “The overall atmospheric pattern looked fairly favorable for it to strengthen.”
He and his team went on the air that Friday and informed viewers that there was a big possibility of a hurricane coming this way. It was time to put all those lessons he had been prepping for years to the test. The station ran preparedness footage through the weekend and kept viewers informed. All of his efforts were not due to results from the National Hurricane Center, he says, it was just him going off a gut feeling.

“We didn’t know where the storm was going, but we knew that South Florida was a possibility so we just needed to be aware.”

Come Saturday, the station was receiving nonstop calls with questions for Norcross and his team about what to do. He answered diligently for hours, until about 1 a.m. Sunday morning. It was clear at that point we were in for a serious threat, so he advised his team to go home and get some rest. What followed was a broadcast like no other. For 23 straight hours, the weatherman reported on the storm, advised the community on how to stay safe, and took calls. “We went through it; step by step,” he says with an audible sigh.

“There came a point after midnight that I realized that this was going to be as bad as it could possibly be, and so I remembered a book by LF Reardon. It was about the 1926 hurricane and his experience going through it with his family in Coral Gables. The windows had all blown out, so one of the things he did was put his kids in the washroom tub and put a mattress over them.”

He remembered that mattress. Thousands of his listeners heeded his advice. “So many people moved the mattress when the storm was over and saw the sky because their house had come apart around them.” 

Bryan Norcross currently lives on Miami Beach and works as the senior executive director of weather content and presentation, and senior hurricane specialist for the Weather Channel. 
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.