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Why Is This Happening? Talking climate, weather and trust with Al Roker

Chris Hayes speaks with NBC's Al Roker about his background, new podcast, why climate change is an “existential threat” and how weathercasts are produced.

TV weathermen often show up as among the most trusted members of the media and almost no one on earth is as good at it or as well-known as Al Roker. Born to a working-class family in Queens, Roker found his way into TV and then meteorology and has become one of the more prominent voices in the country on the totalizing effects of climate change. In addition to being on the Today Show, he’s also the author of more than ten books, including his latest one, “You Look So Much Better in Person,” and has a new limited series podcast out called "Cooking Up a Storm," out now wherever you get your podcasts. He joins to talk about that, shares what goes into producing forecasts, discusses why climate change is an “existential threat” to our world and more. And in a first for our podcast, we asked what you wanted to know. Join as Al also answers questions from WITHpod listeners Keith, Rebecca and Donna.

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

Al Roker: When I about 11 or 12 I figured out if you could get the back of the TV off, and run wire from the leads of the speaker into the "Line In" of the tape deck, I could record the audio off of TV shows. So I've always loved TV, but I never thought I would be on TV.

Chris Hayes: Hello, and welcome to "Why is This Happening?" with me, your host, Chris Hayes.

Chris Hayes: A lot of times we'll do these surveys of the most trusted professions. And a lot of times nurses tend to be up near the top; a lot of people trust nurses. Firefighters are also very trusted. But I think in media (LAUGH) when they do these surveys, it's basically always the weathermen and weatherwomen, it's the weather people: They're the most trusted.

They loom outsize, I think, in people's media consumption or imagination. This is particularly true before the internet era, when I was a young'un. Before you could go online and figure out what the weather was that day, the way you found out (LAUGH) what the weather was was from the person on television or on the radio.

And in my case, because we were an NBC home, and we would watch The TODAY Show every morning, it was from Willard Scott, and then Al Roker. And I've been watching Al Roker for all of my adult life and probably most of my actual life. (MUSIC BEGINS UNDER) And he is a super-fascinating dude who's got a sort of massive portfolio of all kinds of fascinating stuff he does.

He's a colleague of course. He's probably the most famous weatherman in the world. He's a co-host of The TODAY Show, and the third hour of TODAY. He's a co-host of "Off the Rails" on TODAY Show Radio on SiriusXM. He's owner and CEO of Al Roker Entertainment, which produces multimedia content.

He's got a new book out called "You Look So Much Better in Person: True Stories of Absurdity and Success." And he's also got a new podcast out called "Cooking Up a Storm," (LAUGH) which to me is amazing. Because "cooking podcast" sounded like a tough sell, but I thought, "If anyone could do it, it's Al Roker." So it's a great pleasure to introduce Al to the program. Al, how are you?

Al Roker: Well, Chris, I am fine, thank you for that lovely introduction. And, my friend, I am with you. When they came to me and said, "(UNINTEL), we'd like to do a podcast on cooking," I thought, and this, again, shows my age. But I equate this to when Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; Edgar Bergen was a world-famous ventriloquist and he had a top-rated radio show.

And I thought, "On radio? Where's the trick in that?" And we're doing it on Thanksgiving; we're doing a six-episode. We take a look at each part of the meal, like sides, stuffing, cranberry relish, the turkey, dessert, with different chefs like Ina Garten and Marcus Samuelson. And it's kinda fun and it'll be interesting. And we taped it, too, so people'll be able to watch them.

Chris Hayes: Wait, so that's my question, is how does it actually work? Literally, how does it work to do an auditory walkthrough of how to cook?

Al Roker: They've got mics, like, everywhere. There's a mic on the blender, there's a mic at the stove. So then it's this ASMR kind of extravaganza: It's like, "Listen to the blender go," "Listen to the stirring." It's very intense.

Chris Hayes: Do you actually cook? Or is this a bit for the podcast? Are you a person who's actually doing a fair amount of cooking.

Al Roker: I do, I cook a lot. And let me tell you, I generally cook five days a week for dinner. And then we go out one day, and probably order in another. During the pandemic, obviously it was non-stop cooking. But, no, in fact I've got two cookbooks to my name: one's a barbecue cookbook and the other one's a more generic cookbook.

But, no, I love to cook, I've always loved to cook, so this was a natural extension. But, again, as I said, we'll see if people want to listen to cooking. I don't know if there were cooking radio shows back in the day, but I guess we'll find out, now won't we?

Chris Hayes: What's interesting to me is one of the things I love about the medium of podcasting is it's something people can do while they're doing something else. And I know that for the podcasts I listen to, there are certain things I listen to when I'm doing a drive, or I'm going for a walk. And cooking is actually a very big thing that people listen to podcasts while doing. Although I think that it's a little like trying to sing a song while listening to another song if you were (LAUGH) trying to listen to a cooking podcast about a recipe while making another recipe.

Al Roker: Yeah. I'm new to this podcast business. I know you've been doing this for a while, but I just find it fascinating. So when they came to me and said, "Do you want to do it?" I said, "Hey, what the heck," you know? I mean, if it doesn't work, then we'll try something different. But I'm excited about it.

And it is Thanksgiving, and you think about the Butterball Hotline, you know? People callin' about problems with turkeys and all this stuff. So somebody's either gonna be a genius at NBC News Digital, or somebody's gonna be lookin' for a (LAUGH) new job, one or the other.

Chris Hayes: So you're from New York City, right, Al?

Al Roker: I am. Born and raised, Brooklyn--

Chris Hayes: Brooklyn and Queens, one of six. What was your childhood like? What was your upbringing like?

Al Roker: It was the average. Listen, my father was a bus driver, my mom was a nursing assistant and homemaker. I had five brothers and sisters, three of us biological, three of us foster / adopted. And I had a fairly, I think, normal childhood. I got interested in radio very early on.

I remember getting me a 3M Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder when I was ten years old, and just playing with recording sounds and editing stuff, and eventually got interested in television. But I grew up in a middle-class, lower-income middle-class neighborhood. Went to a Catholic school for most of my elementary school and all of high school.

Here in Manhattan I went to a Jesuit military school; we were ready for the next Crusade. Which was an interesting time during the Vietnam War. Because there was a lot of anti-war protests and people are yelling at us, and I'm just trying to do my Latin homework on the subway.

Chris Hayes: What was the Jesuit military school?

Al Roker: Xavier High School, on 16th Street; it's still there.

Chris Hayes: Oh, yeah. No, I know Xavier is a Jesuit school, but I guess I didn't know about that component of it.

Al Roker: Well, the military component of it now is voluntary, but when I went it was mandatory. Antonin Scalia went to Xavier, so he's probably the most famous alumni there.

Chris Hayes: Scalia and Roker: That's pretty impressive, (LAUGH) that's not bad for one New York City Catholic school.

Al Roker: Yeah, you talk about extremes, you know? A weatherguy and a Supreme Court Justice, yeah.

Chris Hayes: Well, can I go back to one thing? And I've read this in your bio. You said that some of your siblings, three of them, were foster or adopted?

Al Roker: Yep.

Chris Hayes: That's sort of, to me, a remarkable detail, and a remarkable detail about your parents. Who were living middle-class life in New York City in which both money and space are tight.

Al Roker: Yes.

Chris Hayes: Who felt the need and moved to do this. Tell me about them and what kind of people they were that that was something that they wanted to do.

Al Roker: My mom was the second-youngest of nine, my dad was the youngest of three, or the second-youngest of three, but my mom always wanted a big family. But she had a number of difficulties with pregnancies: a number of miscarriages, one child who was stillborn, and another child who lived a couple of weeks and then perished.

So I guess they just looked at adoption and foster care as a way to expand that. And they're both gone now, but they were very loving people. As you said, space was tight. We lived in a three-bedroom semi-attached home in Queens, one bathroom, eight people. (LAUGH) You know?

I still own the house. And when my kids would see it, they were like, "Well, where did you all sleep?" I said, "In these two rooms," and they're flabbergasted. They're like, "What? Well, where's the other bathrooms?" "Well, this is it." And I think it's instructive for them to know that that's the way we grew up, and a lot of people still do. And there's no shame in that gig.

We never felt, and I know it sounds cliché, like we were at a disadvantage. My dad, like I said, was a bus driver, but eventually worked his way up. When I was growing up he always wanted to be a dispatcher, and he made dispatcher. And then he made chief dispatcher. And then eventually he moved into management at the transit authority.

It's funny: I don't know about you, Chris, but when we look at our parents, we look at them through the lens of being "our parents" and may not think of them as fully formed individuals, with lives and dreams and things like that. And it wasn't until he passed and they were having a memorial service, and all these people would come up.

And a number of middle-aged African American men and women said that they had their job at the transit authority because of Al Roker, Senior. He mentored all these people, and I had no idea. It was instructive and I think if there's a lesson to be learned, it's make sure you know as much as you do about your parents--

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Al Roker: --before they go.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, it is hard to sort of step out of the childlike way that you view your parents, and the sort of narrow confines of them as the people that are the people that gave birth to you and raised you, and to think of them in that way. And it sounds like your--

Chris Hayes: --parents are pretty remarkable people, just what you've just described here. And, again, I've read your bios and you're describing the sort of slice-of-life of middle-class New York that to me is very precious. I grew up in the outer boroughs; I grew up in the Bronx. My dad was a community organizer and my mother was a teacher in arts and education.

They're both, blessedly, still alive but retired. And, you know, when New York is functioning at its best, I think, is when it's able to sustain essentially middle-class family life in the city. And that can be hard and there's lot of threats to it now. But it's an incredible way to grow up when the structures are in place to allow that to happen.

Al Roker: Yeah. Look, the public school system. When we lived in Brooklyn we lived in the Projects in Canarsie, public schools were terrific, and they still are. But my parents bought this house in 1964, it was $14,500. They put $200 down. Which they had to scrape together to get that. It was a different time.

And St. Albans, where I grew up, was a Black middle-class neighborhood. Not to far from us you had Count Basie's home, James Brown, a whole cadre of these folks; Duke Ellington wasn't that far away. So you had these aspirational people in your life; Babe Ruth had a house in St. Albans. So we were very fortunate that we grew up when we did and where we did.

Chris Hayes: So you went to SUNY Oswego, which I think is where you started doing stuff on air. It sounds like, when you talk about the reel-to-reel, you were into that world even before you got to college. When you think about college, what got you thinkin' about TV?

Al Roker: I've always been fascinated by television. My mother told me when I was six I would describe television shows that were on film as "wet shows." And the shows that were videotaped or live, they were "dry shows," they just (LAUGH) looked dry.

And when I was about 11 or 12, I figured out if you could get the back of the TV off and run wire from the leads of the speaker into the "Line In" of the tape deck, I could record the audio off of TV shows. So I've always loved TV. But I never thought I would be on TV.

I always thought I would work in it as either a writer or a producer, or maybe a director. And so when I was a sophomore in college, in fact, I took a television performance class at SUNY Oswego. And after the first class, my professor, Lou Agau (PH), said, "You know, Roker, you have the perfect face for radio."

But yet he was the guy who put me up for my first TV weather job at the end of my sophomore year. And, listen, his mantra was, "Take whatever job you can get and then work your way to what you want." So I thought, "Okay, I'll just do this TV weather until I can get a job running camera or directing or somethin' like that." And it didn't quite turn out that way, but it worked out all right.

Chris Hayes: But you've had a very long career in front of the camera, and I wonder if we could talk a little bit about broadcasting, and the craft of it. Because I've now spent ten years hosting a television show, and, like anything else, like cooking, cabinetry, driving a bus, there's technique and there's craft.

You can get better at it over time. And I think there's an interesting combination of talent and reps that go into it. And the thing that I've found about it is, my general feeling about it, is that it's not that hard to be passable, and it's hard to be very good at. I'm just curious, from a technical standpoint, what were things that you got better at? What are ways that you have thought about the craft of it that you improved in over time? Or how conscious you were about that?

Al Roker: I wasn't conscious of it, and I've talked about this a lot. You know, Willard Scott just passed not too long ago, and I was so incredibly fortunate that our paths crossed. Now, after my job in Syracuse I got a job at WTTG in Washington, D.C. Which was then owned by a company called Metromedia, which morphed into Fox TV.

But at the time Willard was the weatherman at WRC, the NBC station. And for whatever reason, I just, out of the blue, kinda called me up and took me to dinner, and we had a fast friendship ever since then. And he told me, he said to me once at dinner, he said, "Look," he says, "The one thing you need to worry about is just being yourself." He said, "Everything else will follow."

And he said, "You can have an act, you can have a schtick and everything, but over time that will not last. But who you are is what will carry you through your career." And that was kinda that lightbulb moment: That I just had to be me. And the more you work at your job, I think in this business, and weather allows you to do that, in a sense.

You know, you can be kinda yourself, you're allowed to have some levity or you can be serious or whatever, but just doing it, day in and day out. And I think it was after I left Channel 5 in Washington, I went to Cleveland, Ohio, the NBC station in Cleveland, Ohio. And we did three newscasts a day. And just the sheer repetition, and the sheer numbers of newscasts that we would do, you would either get better or you'd get fired.

Chris Hayes: That advice that Willard Scott gave you is interesting. Because the hardest thing to do on TV is to be yourself, in some ways. Because there's a lot about the medium that's unnatural. On The TODAY Show you have other people to talk to. Talking to a camera is weird and, to me, a little alienating, a little cold. You're not getting the normal feedback of human interaction.

Al Roker: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: But generally the hardest thing about it, and the thing that someone like you excel at and have for a very long time, and I think the people who are really best on TV, I think Letterman and Oprah are two examples of this, as well. There's some level at which being onstage, or being on TV, there's some biological processes of fight or flight that's operating in your system. And I've found, as I've gotten better and more confident and just the reps over time, that's diminished and diminished and gone down and down and down. But the true masters, like I think you're in this category, it's just completely not present. There is no difference in what's happening to you biophysically on the camera and off. Would you agree with that?

Al Roker: Well, here's what I would say. And, a), thank you. But, b), guys like you, and I'm putting you guys in a certain category: you, Rachel Maddow, Oprah, Carson, Johnny Carson. All these folks, all of you for the most part, I think, have it much harder than I do. Because you have to carry a conversation on with the audience that you can't see.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Al Roker: I'm very fortunate in that I'm part of an ensemble. Whether I was doing local news, or when I moved to The TODAY Show, yes, there's parts of it where I am talking to the audience at home. But I've got padres in the studio that allow me to get some sort of interaction and feedback. One of the classic anchors, one of the greatest anchors, local TV anchors, I've ever worked with was Sue Simmons. And I realized the thing that made Sue, and by extension me, who we were was that we almost forgot we were on TV.

Chris Hayes: Exactly.

Al Roker: We were just havin' a good time. And so in a sense I have it far easier than you do because I've got people to play off. I mean, yes, you interview people and so on. But a good portion of your program, and I do enjoy, and that's why, and this is not to blow smoke. But that's why I enjoy watching you, I enjoy watching Rachel.

Because, and please don't take this the wrong way, but it's a masterful performance, you know? Because you guys are imparting information, and yet you are doing it with empathy and emotion. And you can't fake that day in and day out. I marvel at what especially you and Rachel Maddow do.

Chris Hayes: But that point you made, I mean, this is something that we talk about all the time. And, again, it gets to the sort of fascinating thing about the medium but also, I think, about human communication. Which is playing off someone, or talking to someone: There's such an enormous difference interviewing someone through a camera and interviewing them in person.

Because so much of human interactions are non-verbal cues. You know, someone nods or someone smiles, and you say a thing so you catch the fact that they thought that was funny, or you can see a discomfort come across their face when you mention something. Well, all of this is a huge part of human interaction. And, again, that ensemble thing you're talking about is, I think, a real presence for TV that's working--

Al Roker: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: --particularly live broadcasting.

Al Roker: In the beginning you mentioned something about before apps and internet and you could get your weather wherever. And I do think that, to your point: Look, you can get your weather, and for that matter you can get your news, you don't need necessarily to have a human give it to you.

But I think people still, in this day and age of social media and Twitter and all that stuff, like to get their news / information / weather / sports, whatever, from people. Listen, people keep talkin' about the death of linear television. And, yeah, our audiences aren't as big as they used to be, even three or four years ago.

And, yeah, our audiences aren't as big as they used to be, even three or four years ago. But, yet, I would love for anybody to point to a place that for two to three hours a morning, or four hours a morning, where you can get a couple, two, three, four million people watching the same show at the same time--

Chris Hayes: You can't.

Al Roker: --day in and day out. So I still think this is a medium that's, a), a force to be reckoned with, and, b), I think people still like watching / listening to people that they like / trust / believe.

Chris Hayes: You talked about the weather, and I want to talk a little bit about the weather in a second. But I want to just stay on this for second, in terms of the trajectory of your career. I don't really know you personally. We've met a number of times, and you never know, but you seem like a very well-grounded person. Maybe you're secretly a sociopath, but (LAUGH) you seem incredibly well-grounded.

And when you describe your background, I'm curious if you would be willing to talk a little bit about the subjective psychological experience of being a person who becomes more and more known, to the point where you're quite, quite famous, quite recognizable. I think just about anywhere you would go in America, if you walked into a restaurant or coffee shop, there's likely to be people that would be like, "That's Al Roker." And just how you came to integrate that into your sense of self: what it means, and how you think about that, and how you have psychologically acclimated to what is, when you take a step back, a profoundly weird and rarified experience.

Al Roker: Chris, it's one of these things that I feel a little like it's a house of cards that could come crashing down at any moment. In that, look, it's so odd that there were these incidents that happened that brought me to this point. I was thrilled just doing weekend weather at WNBC when I got the job here.

Because I was home and my parents could turn on the TV and could see me. But what my wife and my kids know, that a lot of people don't, is that in reality I'm pretty shy, I'm a little introverted. I tend not to like going out, or if I do it's with a small group of people.

So it is weird, and it's funny. Willard Scott was, in a sense the same way. He suffered from anxiety, he talked about it. And here was this gregarious, outgoing guy, and yet he was always anxiety-ridden about going out in public. When he was on TV he was fine, but it was going out in public.

And while I'm not anxiety-ridden about it, I still don't think of myself. I look at somebody like Brad Pitt, or George Clooney, or any of those people, and I think, "My God, they can't go anywhere on the planet without being recognized." And at least I wear a hat, and I've got on sunglasses and most people, I don't think, know who I am, and I'm always kinda surprised when they do.

I still wrestle with it because I don't really think of myself as somebody that deserves it, if you will. Yes, I'm on TV, I get it, I get that, but I'm still kinda surprised by it. And, listen, it's a great double-edged sword, and I don't say that lightly. Because it's afforded me a wonderful life, my children a wonderful life, my wife Deborah; I met her when she worked at NBC.

It's been a career that has brought me so much. And so I can't really complain about anything. But I do know, and it's funny: My brother, who's my "baby brother," he's 17 years younger than me. But I remember overhearing him talking with my kids 'cause they were saying, "What was it like growing up with Dad?"

And he said, "I was always annoyed when people would come up to" me; he was always annoyed when people would come up to me. Because he felt he didn't have that much of me to begin with, and then these people were interrupting him. And I listened to that and I'd never thought about it.

And so, especially when my kids were smaller, when people would come up I'd say, "You know what? I'd love to take a picture with you, but when I'm with my children I don't do that. And I hope you'll understand that." And most people do. Now they're grown and they don't really care.

But it's an interesting life because, like I said, I don't consider myself "a celebrity." And especially in this day and age of social media. It's kinda funny because you'll post something and all of a sudden some one-line outlet's made it a story.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Al Roker: "Oh, just look at what Al Roker made for his kids." Nobody cares, (LAUGH) why are you posting this?

Chris Hayes: But here's a thing that I think is something that I've experienced and I think is interesting. And I wrote an essay about this in the New Yorker, about kind of the strangeness of being known by strangers, and being recognized by them. And that social media is kind of democratizing that, where that is more and more the experience of more and more people.

But the intensity of visual recognition and intimacy: You know, when you were on television, particularly when you're on television being yourself, which is what your job is, and it's what my job is, as well, when people see you, they see you.

They know Al Roker. I mean, they don't know you intimately, but they've got a pretty good sense of you. My sense is that that's who you are, the guy that's on TV is the guy you are. You're not playing a role and you're not acting. You're performing, sure.

And so there's something profound about the intensity of people's knowledge and recognition of you. Because they feel a certain way about you that is grounded in the fact that they actually do know you, (LAUGH) and there's something that always sort of bowls me over about the intensity of that, just as a psychological experience.

Al Roker: Well, listen, I also think the daypart, the time that they're watching us. Much like you, when people watch you, the time they're watching you they've kind of wound down, they're sitting in front of the TV, they're probably in some state of comfort or undress.

Al Roker: And the same with us in the morning. This is when they're getting ready, and a lot of times I don't think people even see us, we're just on in the background as they're gettin' the kids ready and gettin' dressed. And we're on every day, much like yourself.

So there is a familiarity just due to the sheer amount that we're on. And so, listen, I appreciate that. I'm still kinda blown away that people come up and they seem genuinely excited. I'm thinking, "Wow, well, thank you, but I don't know that I'm worthy of the the excitement level that you're exuding, but I really appreciate it."

It is a weird phenomenon. It's funny because now I'm at the point where people are coming to The TODAY Show window, now that folks can come back now that they're fully vaccinated. And people come with pictures of them with me when they were a year or two years old and now they're fully formed adults. Which is very sweet, but it's also, "Yikes, I'm old."

Chris Hayes: Let me ask you about the weather. Because you mentioned this, and obviously your way into this was through television, but you've come to be a person who is an expert on the weather, and studies it and reports on it. And obviously there's a difference between climate and weather, and people have pointed that out.

But you're also someone who's sort of interested in the climate more broadly, in weather more broadly, and has experienced weather and weather-related disaster intimately professionally for a long time. And I just wonder, and I've talked to farmers who say the same thing, and other people, firefighters who fight forest fires: If you're in a world where your job is this, you can see it firsthand that things are changing. And I wonder if you feel that way.

Al Roker: Oh, absolutely. You can see it. What's interesting I think is that we're living in this climate, no pun intended, where everything has been, in a sense, politicized. And I think there are those who say that climate has become this politicized issue.

And yet we try to, where it is relevant, bring up climate change. And we're getting pushback from our audience. And, look, we have people who watch on all side of the political spectrum, and I think they intrinsically know. Now, you might get an argument, "Well, the climate is changing, but we're not sure that it's being induced because of human activity." And, look, the evidence is irrefutable, but if that's your thing, fine.

But I think most people are convinced that something's happening, something's changing, and you can see it. And we see it because we're reporting on these weather events that just seem to be growing more frequent, more severe, more dangerous, hurricanes or tropical systems that are rapidly intensifying on a regular basis, rainstorms that are overproducing, drought that's going longer, wildfire seasons that aren't seasons any longer, they--

Chris Hayes: Yeah, that's-- yeah.

Al Roker: --just continue. What we just saw in California: Sacramento had its longest dry spell, 218 days, and then had their wettest day ever just this past weekend. And, again, climate makes those events far more likely to happen. So we see it happening, we know it's happening, and the question is, "Do we have the wherewithal and the resolve to do something about it?" Now, we can do something about it. I'm sure you remember, you're old enough to remember when we were concerned about the hole in the ozone layer--

Chris Hayes: Yep.

Al Roker: --and how we had to do something about that. And we banned the chemicals that were causing that, and guess what? That hole is, for all intents and purposes, gone. So we can make these changes. It's will we and will, not just us but other governments, exercise their responsibilities to make those changes?

Chris Hayes: I love that you cited the Montreal Protocol, which is the international treaty that reduced and then banned the use of certain chlorofluorocarbons that were eating the hole in the ozone. And that countries came together to do it, it completely worked: It's an amazing testament to this sort of international coordination.

But the point you made before I think is a really important one. Because I do think there's been a change. There's a political question and a policy question of what to do, and that's informed by people's politics, their values, and all this stuff. But the fact of what is happening just is what it is.

Al Roker: Right.

Chris Hayes: I do feel that at least we have turned the corner on that, which is that people, I think, broadly across ideologies, political spectrums, whatever lines of difference, are like, "Yes, the climate is changing, and, yes, humans are causing it." And the basics of that have gotten to the point where it has shot past attempts to polarize it along ideological lines to just a fact about the world.

Al Roker: Yeah. And here's what I find most interesting. I believe that most Americans, I won't say all, are far ahead of their elected officials when it comes to this issue. I think a lot of American politicians, I won't say all, but a number of them, are afraid, are timid, think that there's gonna be some sort of backlash.

I think that most of their constituents want action on this. And I just don't know, I think individual cities, states, towns, are taking action. But the idea that we have not, as a country, on a federal level, really made those real commitments and those really hard choices, is a little disappointing. But I am an optimist, and I think that it will happen. The question is can it happen in time? Can we mitigate this, or reverse it? I don't think so, unfortunately, but can we at least slow it down? I think we can do that.

Chris Hayes: We've never done this before, but because you are so known and beloved and there's lots of folks that have followed you for a very long time, we sort of went to the WITHpod listeners on Twitter and solicited questions for you. So I want to ask you a few that came in.

This first one is from an extremely important listener, who is the father of our producer, Tiffany Champion, who is a great, great person and known well to the listeners of the show. Her dad's name is Keith Tillman, he's from Rockford. He wants to know: "What moved you to study meteorology? And was there a specific moment of inspiration or revelation where you said, 'This is what I love and this is what I want to do'"?

Al Roker: Well, I wish I could say that this has been a lifelong quest of mine but it really wasn't. Like I was saying, I got to school at SUNY Oswego and I took meteorology. I took intro to meteorology because I needed a science requirement and one of my college suitemates said, "Oh, you oughta take intro to meteorology with this guy 'cause he tends to bend his elbow a bit and doesn't show up for class (LAUGH) sometimes."

So I thought, "Wow, sign me up." And back then environmental sciences was known as "ecology," so I took a class in that. But I didn't really have any burning desire to do weather, or to do TV weather, to be honest. But once I started doing it when I was in college, I got my job. I was a sophomore in college, toward the end of my sophomore year, when I got the weekend weather job in Syracuse, New York.

I went to school at SUNY Oswego, right on Lake Ontario north of Syracuse. And I really enjoyed it. I didn't realize I would like being on TV, but the more I did it, the more I really felt that this was what I was meant to do. I don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing this. A side note: One of my fellow Oswego students in that television performance class was a guy named Jerry Seinfeld. (LAUGH)

Chris Hayes: That's amazing. Somehow I never encountered that detail.

Al Roker: I don't know what he's doing these days, I lost track of him when he left school.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, what is that guy up to? That's amazing. Did you know him then?

Al Roker: Yes. Yeah, he was a funny guy. He was serious about comedy, you know? And at the end of sophomore year he realized if he really wanted to be who he wanted to become, he couldn't go to school up there. So he transferred down to Queens College and the rest is history. And because of that, that's why I got that guest spot on "The Cigar Store Indian"--

Chris Hayes: Right.

Al Roker: --episode of Seinfeld.

Chris Hayes: Right, (LAUGH) the legendary. All right, this is another question about meteorology. It comes from Rebecca Rouse in Skovde, Sweden, and this is something I'm curious about, too. She says, "What's changed in the field of meteorology that surprised you? What did you expect would change that hasn't? And what's the role of media in science communication today?" I'm curious about, have forecasts gotten better? Have they gotten more accurate?

Al Roker: Yes.

Chris Hayes: And is--

Al Roker: Yes.

Chris Hayes: --there a plateau at which they stop getting more accurate because there's a certain level of stocastic uncertainty inherent to the weather as a phenomenon?

Al Roker: Well, two parts to that: a), Yes, our forecasts have gotten more accurate. The size and scope of these supercomputers and the calculations that they can make, one reason. 2), The next generation of weather satellites that are providing incredible information. When they launched the new GOES-16 satellite a few years ago, the satellite would send down in one hour more data than had been sent in all the previous years combined--

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Al Roker: --in the satellite era. So just the sheer amount of data we get, and the computing power, has made our forecasts far more accurate. But yet there are still variables. And climate change is now one of the biggest variables going. So that's an issue that is really the joker in the deck when it comes to forecasts.

Chris Hayes: This comes from Donna Komasara in Cincinnati. She says, "Where's the most interesting place to report on weather year-round in the U.S.?"

Al Roker: I think Mount Washington in New Hampshire. You know, you'll get these wind gusts of 150 miles per hour, massive temperature fluctuations. I haven't done it yet, but I really would love to do a live weather forecast from there because it is so crazy.

Chris Hayes: Take me through who's producing the forecast, and how is the forecast getting produced.

Al Roker: You mean on our show?

Chris Hayes: Yeah. Obviously, the National Weather Service, which is this public entity, has an entire operation doing this. Then there are meteorological services, right, that do this? And then there are individual--

Al Roker: Yes.

Chris Hayes: --journalistic outfits. Where does the data come from and who puts it into the models?

Al Roker: Every country, or area, has their own forecasts. For example, we have the National Weather Service. In Europe the EU has their system. We always talk about the "European model" versus the "American model." There is a Japanese suite of models that they look at, and everybody shares.

And you can look at all these different, because folks have different satellites. But, again, it's a big cooperative and so all that data goes in. Let's say in the National Weather Service you have different branches that are responsible for different kinds of products.

So you've got the National Hurricane Center. You've got the Severe Storms Forecast Center. You've got different groups. There's hydrological groups that look at river forecasting. So all those components are out there. But for us, at The TODAY Show, and on NBC News, we have our own meteorologists who look at this raw data, look at these maps, look at this thing, and come up with a forecast, a national forecast.

So it's one of those things where weather is almost, in a way, a "subjective science." Because you may have a feel that this system is gonna perform a certain way, the model may say. But you feel something in your gut and your bones, because you've seen this happen before, you have a muscle memory for it. And so you may change the forecast.

Pound for pound, we have the best group of off-camera meteorologists and graphic producers, bar none, at any of the networks. And I'm so proud of what we are able to do, and the way we're able to present our information graphically, so that it's understandable and it looks good and it helps us tell a story.

And I start off, I get up around 4:00 a.m. Well, the forecast really starts the day before. Right about now I usually call our daytime folks, and we talk through what's coming up, what's going on, kinda give a sense of what I want to do tomorrow. We have a guy who works kinda the overnight shift. He starts around 5:00, 6:00, and then works till about 4:00 in the morning, and hands off to our morning guy.

And then I get up in the morning and at 4:00, "Okay, what's the latest? What are we doing?" We kinda go through what we want to do graphically, and then we do the show. So there are lot of moving parts. And it's funny because when I first started, when Willard was doing the weather and I was filling in, there was literally one guy. (LAUGH) And now we probably have a staff of seven or eight--

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Al Roker: --meteorologists, graphic producers, we have a senior producer, an executive. In fact, it's now no longer "the weather," it's "the climate unit." Because we produce climate information for our digital components, for MSNBC, for CNBC, for NBC News now. It really has been this evolution over the last 20, 25 years.

Chris Hayes: And it's interesting you call it "the climate unit," because it's a fact of our lives that climate will just loom larger in what's going on in our life. What disruptions there are, what day-to-day life is like, what the patterns of where we live and how: All of that is gonna be affected increasingly.

Al Roker: Yep. Look, I can't stress this enough: This really is the existential threat to our world. Back in 2017 there was a Department of Defense study that named climate change "the number one threat to homeland security." And they've just upgraded that, again, this past year. That everything, and not just in our country but globally, is gonna be the greatest threat to stability on this planet. And that wars are gonna be fought, that mass migrations are gonna happen, because of disruption of food chains and water availability. It really is hard to fathom, when all is said and done.

Chris Hayes: It is hard to fathom, although we sort of press on, including towards our Thanksgiving dinner. Which this year I'm very excited about because it's a sort of reunion. We did not have one last year in my family; we did a little brunch outside under heated lamps. But my parents in the Bronx are hosting again this year after a year off, which I'm very excited about.

And if you want to get some Thanksgiving tips, you can listen to "Cooking up a Storm" with Al Roker wherever you get your podcasts. Al, of course, the most famous weatherman probably in the world, co-host of The TODAY Show, third hour of Today. Al Roker Entertainment has a few programs called "Coast Guard Alaska" and "Coast Guard Florida," which are streaming now on Peacock. Al, what a great pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much.

Chris Hayes: Once again, great thanks to Al Roker. You can check out his new podcast, "Cooking up a Storm," wherever you're listening to this podcast. You could also send us feedback. You could tweet us at the #WITHpod or email "Why Is This Happening?" is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the All In team and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to

Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod, email “Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the “All In” team and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to