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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Meet UC Davis’s very own ‘Storm Chaser’ Colin McCarthy

The UC Davis student behind popular weather Twitter account @US_Stormwatch discusses weather reporting, climate change concerns and family bonding

By UMAIMA EJAZ — features@theaggie.org 

 

For as long as he can remember, Colin McCarthy has been chasing thunderstorms. The UC Davis first-year atmospheric science major covers extreme weather all over the world on his Twitter page, @US_Stormwatch. He started the account when he was in eighth grade, looking to learn more about weather, and today, he has over 64,000 followers. Most recently, his coverage of Hurricane Ian attracted over 30 million views in a week on Twitter. 

“I knew there was a great presence of meteorologists and climatologists on Twitter that I could learn a lot more from,” Colin said. “But after joining Twitter, I started doing my own updates. I originally stuck to California, and then over the last couple years, I’ve expanded out to national and then international.”

From a very early age, Colin said he would backpack in mountain regions with his family and discuss weather conditions with his father, Kevin McCarthy, who is a UC Davis alumnus. In 1988, Kevin was in the first environmental policy and planning class that the university ever offered. 

Colin said that he and his father have developed a strong bond through their shared interest in weather. They’ve been through a lot together, from reading weather patterns on top of mountains to running away from a hail storm during their trip to Yosemite in 2015.

“I’d never seen such dark clouds in my life,” Colin said. “We’re all like, ‘We’ve got to outrun the storm,’ but just then, all of a sudden, this big piece of hail falls down on the back of my dad’s shirt. And after that, hail just starts pounding the ground. This didn’t stop for multiple hours. There was heavy rain, hail and lightning. And I still remember when there was one flash, one strike so close that it struck right behind me. My whole vision went white for half a second. I had never experienced something so wild.” 

The year after their Yosemite trip, Colin got a weather station for Christmas, which allowed him to stay up-to-date on the weather through his own observations. 

“After he got the weather station, he would track the data,” said Kathleen Gallagher, Colin’s mother. “He would watch highs and lows and study the wind patterns. As a mother, it was quite incredible to watch.”

Colin’s brother, Jack McCarthy, recalls that spending time together was always about “chasing storms.” He said his younger brother’s fame wasn’t unexpected. 

“As a brother, I’m so proud of him,” Jack said. “I knew this was his passion, and that he would do something great with it, but to experience all of this with him seems surreal.”

This year, weather conditions have been severe globally. In addition to Hurricane Ian, Colin has reported on floods in Pakistan, heatwaves in Europe and a record-breaking heatwave in China. These events and other weather-related crises have been linked to climate change and global warming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Colin expressed his specific concerns for California as the world experiences severe weather.

“My biggest concern at the moment is ‘climate whiplash,’” Colin said. “It’s about average precipitation risk in the future in California. [Precipitation is] not really supposed to decrease or increase significantly, but we will have these huge periods of drought and floods — a huge kind of whiplash between these really wet years and then these really dry years. It’s very hard to tackle from a water storage standpoint.”

Water reservoirs like the Colorado River are suffering due to an ongoing drought, according to CalMatters.org. Floods may seem impossible when California is seeing so little rain and extreme water shortages, but historical patterns say otherwise. Colin said that, while the earthquakes predicted to occur at the San Andreas fault are concerning, he is more worried about a potential mega-flood in the future.

“We don’t exactly know when, but very likely, in the next several decades, we’ll see the biggest flood in centuries,” Colin said. “It’s happening every 150 to 200 years in California on average. But with climate change, there’s more water in the atmosphere. The last mega-flood that happened was around the 1860s, and it was such a severe flood that the Central Valley actually became an inland sea for a certain period of time.”

Colin said he never expected he would discover his career interests at a young age or find fame through social media reporting, but he said he hopes to continue on this path.

“I didn’t imagine getting verified or seeing this amazing, amazing growth,” Colin said. “It’s hard to know where I see myself in the future, but I’d like to think I could be anywhere across the world, honestly. Weather and climate applies to anyone on Earth, so I expect to be traveling a lot and hopefully have a job that I love.”

 

Written by: Umaima Ejaz — features@theaggie.org