EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Tony Petrarca refers to his first time on the air at WPRI after graduating from Lyndon State College as “the scariest three-and-half minutes in his life.”
“March 17, 1987,” Tony recalled. “I just remember going a mile a minute. My mom called after the newscast [and said] ‘You were hyperventilating. Slow down.’ But it got better from there.”
As the Toll Gate High School graduate looks back at his 30 years on television, he credits the Blizzard of ’78 with getting him interested in the weather.
By the time Category 2 Hurricane Bob hit four years after Tony’s first Rhode Island broadcast, he knew a lot more about New England weather.
“That was my first big storm,” he said.
More severe weather would follow.
There were countless unnamed storms. 1995 brought more than 100 inches of snow. Tony also remembers a cluster of bad weather that brought Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
The destruction from Hurricane Sandy hit the following year.
The rough winter of 2015 dumped 72 inches on us in a relatively short period of time starting in January.
Of all the weather coverage Tony has led over his career, the result of heavy rain over several weeks in the Spring of 2010 might stick out the most.
The 100-year flooding, that at times was referred to as a 500-year flooding, was widespread, damaging, and we may not see anything like it for a long time, if ever again.
“The river flooding. The Pawtuxet, the Blackstone, the Warwick mall flooding,” Tony recalled. “That was pretty incredible.”
The experience of forecasting all of those storms is one tool Tony can use now. But technological advancements are also big part of the mix and add up to the greatest change in his career.
Doppler radar and satellite technology have helped make forecasting more precise. Computer graphics have made telling the weather story of the day easier to follow on television and online
But Tony emphasizes that the experience helps him add precision to the information that he gathers with technology.
“We’re going to call it differently on what we saw happen before,” Tony said. “So, experience can definitely supersede raw computer models.”