North Slope of Alaska Welcomes a Famous Visitor

Published: 16 April 2019

Editor’s note: To learn more about earth system changes in the Arctic, Al Roker, broadcast meteorologist for the NBC morning show “TODAY,” traveled to the Alaskan town of Barrow, officially known as Utqiaġvik. Roker interviewed Mark Ivey, manager of ARM’s North Slope of Alaska atmospheric observatory, and launched a weather balloon for a segment that aired April 1, 2019. In this blog, Ivey, of Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, recounts Roker’s visit.

This is the full segment from Al Roker’s trip to Alaska that aired April 1 during the “TODAY” 9 a.m. hour. Mark Ivey, manager of ARM’s North Slope of Alaska atmospheric observatory, appears around the 3:30 mark. Footage is courtesy of NBC News’ “TODAY.”

The NBC crew was great. The producer, Erin McGarry, did her homework for the shoot in advance, and Al had great questions.

When people ask what to bring when they visit the Arctic, I tell them to be sure to bring along their sense of humor and patience because anything can happen with weather in Alaska! Al, Erin, and the crew timed their trip well. I told Erin that I thought the weather gods smiled on them. The crew arrived in time to experience the record-breaking warm temperatures across the North Slope. Erin wisely sent a crew up in advance to scout locations and check the network connections back to New York. That seemed to pay off. Of course, many people in town were very excited and turned out at 2 and 3 a.m. to watch the filming and be in Al’s crowd for the live broadcasts.

The original plan was that Al and the crew, with help from a group led by Nagruk Harcharek at UIC Science, were going to take snow machines out to the open lead or crack in the ice (open water) and film a whale camp being set up. Unfortunately, a major windstorm arrived and broke up the ice just a day or two before the shoot. So that trip was no longer safe and the crew had to adjust and work closer to shore. The fellows assisting me with the balloon launch were Jimmy Ivanoff, ARM chief operator, and Josh Ivanoff, ARM site operator, both from UIC Science. They deserve all the credit for helping Al experience his first hands-on weather balloon launch (although I am sure he’s looked at lots of weather balloon data in the past).

Al and the film crew shot the footage you saw on Sunday, March 31, and sent it off to New York. Editors there must have worked through the night to create the segments we saw April 1 and 2 on the “TODAY” show from Utqiaġvik.

I was really impressed by Erin, Al, and their crew. Al got off the plane in Utqiaġvik on Saturday and dove into the work. I doubt he got much sleep during his visit. And by Lower 48 standards, it was pretty cold even if it was a heat wave. Al didn’t seem to let the low temps and wind bother him. He was very funny and has a real skill for putting everyone at ease.

I am grateful that NBC came up to Utqiaġvik to show folks in the rest of the country science efforts like ours and to help them better understand the human dimensions of the rapidly changing Arctic.