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Keeping his eyes on the skies

Meteorologist Aaron Mentkowski sees good in bad weather. It's forecasting at its best, explained the 35-year-old who spent two years each working in Fort Myers, Fla., and Macon, Ga., before landing his job at WKBW-TV. But Mentkowski does much more than forecast the weather. The father of three young boys is an adjunct professor of meteorology at Jamestown Community College and Buffalo State College and also works part time as a forensic meteorologist.

People Talk: Can your testimony at trial make or break a case?

Aaron Mentkowski: Absolutely. In the weather-related cases I work on, if a lawyer or insurance company is calling me to help them, I will play a huge role in the outcome.

PT: Are we talking slip and falls?

AM: A lot of slip and falls, but you'd be surprised. There's also wind-related cases -- where someone's been hit by an object that wasn't latched down -- snow-related accidents, hail damage, rain events. Recently, I testified about significant rainfall that created a flood situation, and that resulted in someone falling.

PT: Weather is omnipresent.

AM: It's the only thing that affects every single person, because people may not care about the news, about the news, about the Sabres or Bills - but mo matter what, they are interested in the weather.

PT: You must have many weather tools.

AM: I just bought myself a new rain gauge. Concerts have weather-related cancellation insurance, where you need a certain amount of rain to cancel and give refunds.

PT: Do you remember the Fourth of July Goo Goo Dolls show?

AM: When there was 2 inches of rain? I think I worked that day. I used that concert footage for a court case.

PT: Do you keep a percentage of forecast accuracy?

AM: No, but we're generally accurate from 24 to 72 hours, and generally it goes down after that. But people only notice when you're wrong, like when I say passing showers and they don't get one. I would never cancel an event based on what the weather might do, because here it is volatile.

PT: What's better than lake-effect snow?

AM: Nothing, because it's so moody.

PT: What's your favorite weather word?

AM: Pleasant? Tranquil? My personal favorite weather word would probably be stormy. I love that stuff, when the weather is changing. Tom Jolls took salubrious, so I can't use that one. I am very lucky to be following in his footsteps.

PT: What is the first weather principle you teach?

AM: The course is called "Severe and Unusual Weather," and I let them choose what they want to learn. Mostly, it's tornadoes and snow and hurricanes. Every year the first class has been lake-effect snow. This year, they wanted to learn about prehistoric weather so we covered 65 million years. We also covered atmospheric optics.

PT: What are they?

AM: Like halos around the sun. Or a green flash, which is a flash of green as the sun sets. One student did a great job on how volcanoes affect the weather.

PT: Do your children follow the weather?

AM: They're interested in it, but not as much as I am. My oldest will probably do something with science. I can tell how his brain works, and he grasps the math and science fairly well, just like his Dad. Our middle one is very athletic. The sky's the limit for the little one.

PT: How did you develop the passion for weather?

AM: It's the only thing I ever wanted to do since I was little. I remember the Blizzard of '77. I went to UB for engineering and I woke up one day and decided I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. So I went to Oswego for meteorology.

PT: What's your TV style?

AM: Well, I don't juggle, and I'm not crazy obnoxious. I like to smile. You don't need to turn the volume down because I won't be shouting. I don't want to get overly technical, but I will tell you if you'll need an umbrella. I'm pleasant and consistent.

PT: You must mark your life by weather events.

AM: I remember when my first son was born, it was record warmth. My wedding was 70 and sunny, but that was in San Diego. Remember in 2001, that big storm from Christmas to New Year's Day? We had 82 inches of snow that year.

PT: Do you get farmers calling and asking about the weather?

AM: Not so much this year. It's been great growing conditions: raining every night, sunny during the day. We get all sorts of calls, especially Saturdays in the summer for weddings, garage sales and lawn fetes. Summer is almost a stressful weather season for me.

PT: You have a black belt in karate?

AM: Yes, I'm fascinated by Kempo. It's relaxing, a great release. It helps you see things before they even happen, like threatening situations. For me it's time away. The kids do it as well. I practice katas [a series of karate movements] on my lunch break in the "AM Buffalo" studio. It keeps me fresh.

PT: What do you do when it rains?

AM: I like naps. Or play open scrimmage hockey at noon in the Pepsi Center.

e-mail: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com