Story by Ian Guerin
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. | The text messages never really stop.
Ed Piotrowski doesn’t really want them to.
More than 24 years since he joined ABC’s Grand Strand affiliate WPDE News 15 as its lead weatherman, Piotrowski has developed into the go-to source for all things weather. But as the years have changed how news is presented, arguably the most visible person in the Myrtle Beach area has changed, too.
All the while, the same cell number he’s had for a decade is a constant point of contact for people he’s never met. They want advice on the best times to play a round, seek insider information on the rainiest part of their trips, and - like he did not all that long ago - the chances of sunshine on a wedding day.
“It’s not just locals. I would say 60 percent of the time, it’s people from out of town,” said Piotrowski, who added those messages are coming at a rate of at least three-four each week. “They are looking at computer-generated weather apps that are more often wrong than they are right. They want a human being to weigh in. They see a 60-percent chance of rain and think it’s going to rain the whole time. Nah, most of the time it’s a 30-percent chance and it’s just some afternoon storms kind of thing. To make a difference and help somebody out, they’ll remember that hopefully.”
For those not lucky enough to have Piotrowski’s cell number, a quick scan of WPDE.com will do the trick. His reports there are consistently updated for locals and tourists alike, and they are considered the gold standard.
It’s part of the reason overlooking Piotrowski is next to impossible. Via his forecasts on live television, his countless speaking engagements each year and even an occasional golf tournament, he is every bit the pure definition of an in-demand celebrity. His grind begins frequently at daybreak and doesn’t stop until after the 11 p.m. newscast.
There may be a middle school appearance sandwiched by a festival or a senior’s group. The go-go-go mentality is one he can stomach after watching his father serve in the Marine Corps for 30 years - Piotrowski still proudly displays USMC flag in his back yard - and the values that instilled.
“He held us to a pretty high standard and kept us motivated,” Piotrowski said. “I look at my job as more of a hobby. I love the weather. I love to interact with people. Frankly, I can’t say ‘No’. When people ask me to come speak, I don’t like to disappoint anybody so I say ‘Yes.’”
And so the grind continues, even at 51 years of age and a presentation to news that didn’t exist when he first started. His company Facebook page boasts more than 102,000 likes. Another 18,000 or so follow his Twitter handle.
“Ed is definitively the most popular man in Myrtle Beach,” WPDE anchor Trey Paul said. “Part of the reason why has a lot to do with the fact that the person you see on air is the same person you see in public. He is the most transparent person I’ve met. … The first time I met Ed, I totally fanned out. I was a total fan. Ed met every expectation. Period. I’m talking about him like he’s an A-Lister. But he really is.”
That A-Lister knows how to keep things light on the air when necessary. During commercial breaks, he’ll remind Paul to fix his toupee (Paul doesn’t have a toupee). And yet, Piotrowski is “passionate” - as Paul put it - about the weather. Simply, it has dictated so much of his life.
Even one of the happiest days in recent memory.
On the morning on Oct. 9, 2016, he conducted one final report on Hurricane Matthew, which had struck the South Carolina coastline the previous day. He was off the air around 10:30 a.m., hopped on the first available flight to Western North Carolina, where a friend picked up him at the airport and drove them to Banner Elk in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
They arrived at 4 p.m., and an hour later, he was marrying his new wife, Cindy.
He did not post anything on his heavily trafficked outlets for a week, in part out of respect for storm’s affected victims.
“I struggled with that. I struggled with even leaving,” Piotrowksi said. “It wasn’t the end of the world. It had passed, and it was now a news story. I have cancelled vacations before. But I know from 27 years of this job that it has taken so much of my personal time. This was one time when I needed to do something for me.”
Said Paul: “I see Ed being here forever. He is very passionate about what he does.”
Piotrowski says there are times when he thinks about walking away. The consumption of his days and lack of time with family and friends wears on him.
And then something like Hurricanes Matthew or Irma or the flooding of 2015 happens and he’s suddenly thrust into a situation where his stock shoots through the roof again because of the trust he’s earned with viewers.
During Irma, for instance, he was doing regular Facebook Live videos preparing people near and far during all hours of the day and night.
On either side of the storm, he was able to provide comic relief. But during the lead-up, it was all business.
“Ultimately, it’s about being who I am,” he said. “I consider myself an authentic person who wants to tell you exactly what I think about a situation. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I’m going to tell you ‘I don’t know.’ Ten days out, we don’t know where a hurricane is going to go. Because there was so much stuff out on the Internet about a Category 5 hitting Myrtle Beach, people just craved information. Even if it was me saying ‘I don’t know, don’t panic’ it was the voice of reason. There are so many extremes out there. I think people appreciate when you’re honest with them.”
Follow Ed Piotrowski on Twitter: @EdPiotrowski
Follow Ed Piotrowski on Facebook: Ed Piotrowski WPDE