On air 25 years: How did the wind blow him to Myrtle Beach?

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — His job allows him to color everyday in a room with robotic cameras.

He's surrounded by dozens of screens and stands in front of a green wall.

Outside of work he makes more than 150 public appearances a year, a lot of those are to schools to teach little ones about hurricanes, the water cycle and lightning.

"How do you detect a tornado?" one fourth-grader at Socastee Elementary School asks. "How does a thermometer work?" another questions.

"Is your name actually Ed Piotrowski?" a girl asked after the presentation.

Yes, his real name is Ed Piotrowski, and he has been the chief meteorologist at WPDE news station for 25 years.

"I thought when I got here, I'd spend two or three years here and then move on to a bigger market," he said. "It just grew on me and I love the place, and now I can't imagine going anywhere else. I hope to finish my career here."

But, the 52-year-old says, he's a long way from retirement.

He chooses to make the public appearances outside of work for charities and at schools. Years ago, he was told by a boss, "You can be great on television, but if you aren't involved in your community, you're not going to resonate with your community."

It has helped him know people in the community, and when he's on air he feels like he's talking to an audience of friends.

Piotrowski said he really enjoys visiting schools, teaching students about the weather.

"I love giving the weather, but I think my greater call or my greater purpose in life is to serve people," he said.

"And if I can help them with an event or raise money for some sort of charity, or teach children tornado safety, I feel like I'm making a difference — a small difference — in their lives in addition to what I say on television."

Many people know him from television and public appearances, but what does Piotrowski do when he's not in front of the camera?

Other than getting on his family's nerves with his weather obsession, outside of work he takes much-needed time for himself to unwind. Binge-watching shows on the sofa is how he relaxes, along with running and fishing. He understands he may be noticed while taking a trip to the grocery store, and he's always ready to say "hello" to viewers and fans.

Born in Hawaii, Piotrowski's father was in the Marine Corps, so the family of six moved around. Piotrowski, the oldest of four children, graduated high school in Texas and went on to study meteorology at N.C. State University. He worked at a station in New Bern, North Carolina, for three years before landing in Myrtle Beach.

Piotrowski and his wife, Cindy, have been married for about three years. The two live in Carolina Forest and take care of Piotrowski's parents.

One of the darkest times in Piotrowski's life was when his 31-year-old brother, Matt Piotrowski, died soon after his cancer diagnosis.

"Literally from diagnosis to death, it was six days," he said.

Though his brother died at a young age, Piotrowski said he believes in eternal life, and living one year or 100 years is just a small part of eternity.

"No matter how much time you have on this earth, the bottom line is, eternity is everything," he said. "And I believe my brother is in heaven, and I will see him again."

Not only is Piotrowski a great weatherman, he's also a great friend, said Matt Harris who met Piotrowski at the Myrtle Beach Pelican's ballpark in the early 2000s.

"In some ways he's a larger than life guy," Harris said of Piotrowski being well known in the area. "But at the end of the day there's so much humility. He has a pressure cooker of a job along the coast. . . . He doesn't take himself too serious. He's as down to earth as it comes."

The two have a friendship that goes back to Piotrowski's days working at the Pavilion weather center. He was a one-man band, and Harris worked just around the corner. The best friends have memories filled with laughs, mostly about Piotrowski sometimes struggling with equipment.

Harris said it isn't uncommon for someone to approach them if they are out for lunch and ask for an autograph or photo with Piotrowski. And he's always patient and glad to take a photo and sign an autograph.

Piotrowski has made his way onto the menu at Famous Toastery. The "Eddie P" is Piotrowski's go-to omelet, made with ham, avocado and cheddar cheese.

He also has his face on a glass at Grumpy Monk, with the quote, "If Yoda was a meteorologist Ed Piotrowski his name would be."

Four minutes until he has to be on camera is a long time in the world of television.

Piotrowski sits at the computer in the studio just feet away from the two live anchors giving the news to the Myrtle Beach area. When it's almost his time, Piotrowski stands patiently in place, waiting to give the First Warning weather.

People who work with Piotrowski agree he's the same person on camera as he is off camera.

Victoria Spechko, news director at WPDE, has worked at the station with Piotrowski for the last 25 years. The two started at WPDE just a week apart, and together they have covered more than 20 tropical systems.

"What I love about Ed is that he's the same person on the air as he is off the air," she said. "That's why he's remained such a popular figure for so long. He's authentic. He's never been about hyping the weather — just delivering it straight."

Spechko said he truly cares about the viewers and knows they rely on his expertise, especially during hurricane coverage.

"It's a responsibility he doesn't take lightly," she said.

Piotrowski said he will never forget Hurricane Floyd in 2001, the 150-mph tornado in 2001, Hurricane Matthew in 2016 or Hurricane Florence last year.

And the storms "absolutely age" him, he said.

"You're in the office all the time, that's the Super Bowl of weather, that's when people depend on you most," he said.

During Hurricane Florence in September, he was in the office 106 hours of the 168-hour coverage.

"That was my choice because I really care about how things are going and how it impacts people," Piotrowski said.

People expect 100 percent accuracy in the forecast, Piotrowski said, but usually his team is 95 percent accurate for the following day's forecast.

Piotrowski doesn't read off a teleprompter — he ad-libs.

So sometimes, that can mean embarrassing on-air moments. Like the time he wanted to say, "You folks" in Florence.

"But it came out, 'You . . . "' in Florence, he said. "You can kinda figure out how it came out."

Or the time the "I Dream of Jeannie" star Barbara Eden was in town at the Palace Theatre.

"I wanted to say we wish her great success while she's in Myrtle Beach," he said. "But here, again, the words kinda came out wrong, and I literally said on television, 'We want to wish Barbara Eden great sex while she's in Myrtle Beach.'"

Piotrowski just laughed it off, it's how they ended the newscast. Thankfully, it was before social media was around, he said.

"I always say it's not the mistake you make, it's how you recover that matters," Piotrowski said.

Piotrowski recently received the Honorary Life Membership Award and was named the 2018 SCBA Weathercaster of the Year by the S.C. Broadcasters Association.


Information from: The Sun News, http://www.thesunnews.com/