Behind Chambana Weather | Meteorologist Andrew Pritchard
My name is Andrew Pritchard, and I'm a meteorologist born and raised in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I founded Chambana Weather in 2014, a resource for weather information for Champaign-Urbana, the University of Illinois, and surrounding communities of east-central Illinois.
As for the rest of my story...
I never stood a chance. I suppose I feared thunderstorms for a couple of years of my life. Around age 2, I was awakened by a nighttime thunderstorm. My parents scooped their crying toddler from bed and took me onto the porch of my grandparent's home in the small Midwest town of Aledo, IL. From the safety of my parents' lap on that porch swing, I watched the driving rain, bright lightning, and loud thunder. They didn't seem to bother me after that. From then on when storms rolled in, you could find me in the yard with my dad, both of us craning our necks back, staring up at the sky, often "looking for rotation". My young mind couldn't fathom what the clouds spinning in a circle might look like.
My dad always had an interest in severe storms and tornadoes. He was a storm spotter for Champaign County ESDA as a young adult, and the stories of his first tornadoes kept me on the edge of my childhood seat.
My path was further solidified when my dad friended the new Chief Meteorologist in town, Ed Kieser, at WILL-AM 580/FM 90.9. Ed became a local weather celebrity who also had a passion for severe weather, specifically tornadoes. Are you catching a theme here? Their powers combined to create a tornado-obsessed child who spent more time watching tornado videos on VHS and Beta tapes than watching cartoons. Ed would eventually give me my first part-time job as his weather office assistant at WILL.
My parents bought me a little Kodak 110 camera to play around with when I was 6 or 7, but I quickly wanted more. I took on a daily newspaper delivery job, a paperboy, if you will, and saved away my money until I could buy my own 35mm film SLR. When I was 12 I decided I wanted to be able to rewatch the storms I was witnessing and saved up my money for a Sony 8mm camcorder. It was time to go!
My dad and Ed Kieser would go off with the folks in the Dept of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois in search of tornadoes which left me devastated every single time. "Wait until you're 18!" they told me. When you're a 12 or 13-year-old kid, your 18th birthday feels like an eternity away. I still got my fix, filming storms that rolled into Champaign-Urbana from the garage, and then compiling little highlight flicks using my camera and multiple VCRs plugged into each other to share with family and friends.
...And now 15, 20 years later, I guess I'm still doing the same thing. The only difference is, time did pass, and I now have the luxury of meeting the storm out on the prairie rather than pleading with the sky to send the action to my backyard.
The sky is always up to something. Even if it looks benign, it's still sitting up there scheming.
The open sky will always be my escape. I'll take the hits in any form I can - stepping out onto the porch first thing in the morning and breathing in the untapped energy of the day, walking a trail with my family, or having the topsoil around me sucked into a growing supercell. Fresh air and the open sky breathes life into this body.
When I'm not out observing the weather in the open, I'm forecasting it from the office. My day job is Sr. Atmospheric Scientist for Nutrien Ag Solutions, working in our Champaign, IL office and spending much of my day forecasting short-term high-impact weather events and their impact to agriculture in the US and Canada. I also play a role in keeping our many employees and customers safe during severe weather events, aiding in severe weather preparedness efforts before the storm, and alerting those in the path during the storm.
I continue to independently operate Chambana Weather, providing local weather information for Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities. I provide daily weather forecasts and live severe weather coverage for Illinois Public Media, WILL AM 580/FM 90.9, (Central Illinois' NPR). Our coverage of the December 10th, 2021 tornado outbreak won an Edward R. Murrow Award for breaking news coverage. I also work closely with local school districts and the County Emergency Management Agency in severe weather preparedness efforts.
I am truly living my best life.