DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Chris Hohmann’s vibe as he slides into retirement is a lot like his vibe on air: easy-going, but resolute.
Nothing “triggered” his decision to leave his post as ABC11’s chief meteorologist, he said, as he readied for Friday, his last day after nearly 30 years at the station. It was just time.
“As much as I have loved my job and loved working at ABC11, I was ready to do something different,” Hohmann, 62, told The News & Observer. “Not necessarily in a professional capacity. I was just ready to move on.”
It’s something Hohmann has been thinking about for a while now. Something he and his wife, Beth, have talked about from time to time. Something he was considering just before the pandemic, but when that hit, he put it off.
“This just seemed like a good time,” he said. “It seems like with summer starting and the pandemic getting better ... you just kinda know. I’m just ready to do something.”
Part of his readiness to move on is simply because, as a meteorologist working in this part of the country, professionally, he’s seen it all.
“Working here the past 30 years, we’ve had the biggest snow storm, the worst ice storm, the worst hurricanes, the worst tornado outbreak, the worst drought ... I’ve seen it all and I’ve covered them all, and hopefully done a good job — as best I could anyway.
“But yeah, it’s just kind of just time to step back and watch from home.”
Hohmann’s retirement agenda is about as laid back as you might expect (“I’m just gonna ease into retirement,” he says).
In the immediate future, more trips to the beach and more time spent with family (his daughter, Ashley, is home from UNC for the summer). For the fall, he and his wife purchased season tickets for Carolina football.
After that, some trips out west to explore California and some national parks.
And he hopes to volunteer with Saving Grace, a dog rescue group located on a farm in Wake Forest. Hohmann’s family plays host to Saving Grace rescue dogs now and then, which is how they got their dog Abby. The family has a second dog, Madison.
HE WON’T MISS THE BAD WEATHER
All this week, leading up to Hohmann’s final broadcasts on Friday, the station looked back at some of the biggest moments of his career: a record-setting snow storm in 2000, a debilitating ice storm in 2002, the drought of 2007, the tornado outbreak of April 2011, and hurricane after hurricane after hurricane.
They’re all memorable, for different reasons.
But the one that looms largest for Hohmann is Hurricane Fran, the September 1996 storm blamed for 24 deaths and $7.2 billion in damage in North Carolina (that’s more than $12 billion in 2021 dollars). Unlike most of the hurricanes that come through North Carolina, Fran’s track brought it right through the Triangle.
Hohmann had only been in Raleigh for a few years when Fran hit.
“Fran came in not just with the extremely heavy rain, but we had 60- to 80-plus mile per hour winds for hours in the Triangle that night as it moved overhead, and hundreds of thousands of trees down across the state and Triangle, and power outages for days,” Hohmann said.
“I remember even in December, I was doing the morning show then, driving to work in the dark, and there were still burning debris sites. You could see the light in the sky from where they were still hauling debris and burning it — in December — because there was so much to clean up.
“That was the most memorable, even though it’s been a long time, because we haven’t had a Category 3 hit the state, much less move up toward Raleigh and Durham, since then. It’s only a matter of time before that happens again. It’s not very common, but it will happen again one day. And with so many more people here, it’s just going to have that much more of an impact.”
When the next big storms do hit, Hohmann says he won’t miss being part of the action — at least not for hurricanes and tornadoes. He would like to sit home and enjoy a nice, big snow storm, though.
Hohmann says he never got “excited” about big weather events, as some meteorologists might, but instead, he would feel dread about the potential damage and suffering they could cause, and also anxious, wanting to make sure he did a good job and was ready for what was coming.
And he was always ready.
“Once it unfolds, you get into a rhythm, and it usually goes well, and we’re happy with how we performed and hopefully served the audience.
“I don’t know if I’ll miss that, though, because I’ve done it for so many years,” he said. “A lot of people say once they retire they always look back fondly, but they don’t miss work. I don’t know how I’ll feel. I’ll find out soon enough I guess.”
COUNTING ON CHRIS
In a market where TV weather allegiances are strong, Hohmann has been popular with viewers for his “calm during a storm” demeanor, delivering the weather without over-hyping the danger or playing up potential drama.
Don Schwenneker, also known as “Big Weather,” will take over as chief meteorologist at ABC11 in June, and says Hohmann’s calming presence has helped him remain settled during severe weather events.
“Chris on air is very much like Chris in real life,” Schwenneker said.
“No matter how hectic the weather was, no matter what was going on around him, he was like the eye of the storm. So I always found that, I could come in and it could be very hectic because of what was going on, but because of that calm demeanor, it kind of transferred to me and it made sure that I started my severe weather coverage calm.
“I think he’s really good about not panicking because he’s seen so much, and he’s good at making sure that the people around him don’t either. It’s a wonderful strength of his.”
Hohmann, a Kentucky native, arrived at WTVD in 1991 as the weekend meteorologist, moving in 1993 to weekday morning and noon broadcasts. In 2007, he became the first at the station to hold the title of chief meteorologist, reporting the weather for the evening and 11 p.m. newscasts.
Many from this area still remember the WTVD promotional campaign from that era in which viewers cast their lot with Hohmann while a chorus shout-sang “I count on Chris!” in the background.
For the past month, viewers have been leaving well-wishes for Hohmann on the ABC11 Facebook page — lots of exuberant congratulatory messages interspersed with some sad-face emojis.
“Really going to miss Chris!! Excellent meteorologist!! Always positive even in difficult situations and times!! Just always seemed to be such a nice and caring guy!!”
“I loved Chris as a weather man. It’s gonna be sad to see him retire.”
“How am I going to ‘Count on Chris?’ Congratulations to your retirement!”
“We will miss you! I count on Chris!!!”
Since he announced his retirement on April 29, at the same time longtime anchor Tisha Powell announced she would also be leaving, the messages from viewers, friends and former colleagues have been overwhelming.
Hohmann said he was more emotional than he anticipated during the actual announcement, and calls the subsequent outpouring of well-wishes “very touching and heartwarming.”
“I was really kind of blown away,” he said. “I knew I’d hear from people, but some of the people — the number has been very touching. I’m just very grateful. You just forget all the years and all the people you’ve been in contact with, and for them to reach out, it’s just meant a lot.”
But even before the announcement, Hohmann says viewers always treated him with kindness — unless he has to interrupt “Wheel of Fortune” or “Jeopardy!” with a tornado warning. And even then, he understands.
“I get that, because that’s their routine. They get mad and they’ll call and express their anger, sometimes in very colorful terms,” he laughs. “But I get that. It’s part of the job and I never really took it personally. When we do that, we’re just trying to keep people safe, and most viewers actually understand that. You just hear from the angry ones.
“But I’ve had so many more nice encounters with people out and about,” Hohmann said. “Whenever I meet people when we’re out, they’re always so kind. It’s just been a great place to live and work. I couldn’t be more grateful.”