Eric Sorensen with “the Weather Lab,” his black Labrador retriever, Theo, outside of Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Rockford. (Thom J. Kuss photo)
Weather is his passion, but you might be surprised to learn what else makes this Rockford native and 13 WREX meteorologist tick.
Eric Sorensen is a familiar face in Rockford.
“You can’t go anywhere with Eric without someone recognizing him,” says Laura Gibbs-Green, a former co-worker. “He’s big time here, but he doesn’t act like it. He doesn’t have an ego.”
While many viewers know Sorensen for his work predicting snowstorms or unusual weather patterns, they may be surprised by many odd facts about this hometown weathercaster. For starters, as a young child, he was absolutely petrified of storms. To make matters worse, in 1967, his aunt endured the devastating Belvidere tornado that claimed 24 lives, including 13 children. “That reinforced my fear of storms,” he says.
Another odd fact is how his date of birth influenced his name. Sorensen was born at 12:34 p.m. on March 18. Had he been born 12 hours earlier, on St. Patrick’s Day, he would have been named Patrick. “My grandmother was very Irish,” says the Rockford Boylan High School graduate.
Speaking of names, students in high school called Sorensen ‘Jeff,’ because his randomly assigned license plate read JEF 911. His nickname is Brappy, a word he made up. “Really, I’ll answer to anything,” he admits.
Apparently, he’ll devour almost anything, too. Sorensen has a taste for bleu cheese, anchovies and liver sausage. “I can’t believe people turn up their noses at these three things,” he says. “They’re delicious. Bleu cheese on top of a liver sausage sandwich doesn’t taste bad to me.”
If he weren’t a meteorologist, Sorensen would most likely be a science or music teacher. He played concert piano for 12 years. He loves to dress up every year for Halloween, and is never too busy to pull pranks on co-workers; new meteorologists learn quickly not to walk away from their computers and leave their Facebook accounts open whenever Sorensen’s around.
“Eric is known for being a jokester,” says Katie Nilsson, WREX news anchor. “He’s always the one making us smile. He loves to tell cheesy jokes, and he always has some sort of off-the-wall comment to make me laugh.”
The meteorologist rarely gets cold. During the winter, Sorensen grills outdoors and shovels his driveway wearing shorts. He’s even donned flip-flops on the news set to deliver the weather – a practice station managers have since discouraged.
Sorensen knows he’s an unusual character. “If people weren’t unique, this would be a boring place,” he says. “I have no problem being the most different or unique person in a group. Sometimes it’s fun to be the life of the party, and sometimes it’s fun to see the party happen and not be that person. At 37, I’m just a big kid.”
Despite his aunt’s brush with a devastating tornado, Sorensen grew to love weather, by reading books and taking science courses. “I became hooked,” he says. He earned a B.S. in meteorology from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, and following graduation, had his pick of jobs at TV stations in the Quad Cities, Eau Claire, Wis., or Lufkin, Texas. He opted to leave his comfort zone and joined the team at KTRE in Lufkin, in 1999. “I’d never lived outside of northern Illinois,” he says. “I wanted to experience something new.”
Sorensen spent four years in Texas, where he learned to tolerate 110-degree heat and developed his palate for spicy foods. Once, he was asked to judge a local gumbo contest in Lufkin. “I called my mom and said, ‘What’s gumbo and how do I judge it?’”
While he had fun there, his stay in Texas also included some major news events, like the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion in 2003. “I realized during both events that I was living 1,000 miles away from my family and friends,” he says. “I was a bit homesick.”
So, in 2003, Sorensen returned to Rockford, to accept a meteorology position on the morning show at WREX. He soon moved to the evening show, where he’s been ever since. And he loves being back in the Midwest.
“I enjoy how the weather is different every day, and I like the four seasons,” he says.
Sorensen is highly regarded for his determination to be as accurate as possible, and for the effort he makes to continually learn about ever-evolving weather trends. “Weather is all about probability,” he says. “What’s the probability that this is going to happen, and are there creative ways to say it? If it rains for a whole hour on a Saturday, it can pretty much ruin your day. It’s easy for me to say ‘we’ll have a one-hour shower on Saturday.’ That’s doesn’t sound bad. Otherwise, people get the perception that it’s going to rain all day.”
Besides delivering the weather three times each night, Sorensen is active with social media and radio. He writes a blog, tweets and posts on Facebook, and delivers regular updates on local radio stations owned by Maverick Media.
“I’ve never seen someone so energized by the weather as Eric,” says Gibbs-Green. “He’s a weather nerd. He gets so excited about storms; it’s like Christmas for him. That’s a sign of a good meteorologist.”
One of Sorensen’s greatest responsibilities is teaching weather safety to area school children. For the past several years, he and the WREX weather team have visited dozens of local elementary schools during the month of May to promote “Project Tornado,” a program that teaches children about the dangers of serious weather. “If we have a tornado coming through that’s flattening houses, I feel like I have a responsibility to protect viewers,” he says. “My job is to let people know how real that threat is.”
When he’s not gabbing about the weather, Sorensen heads outdoors to enjoy it. He straps a kayak on the top of his Mini Cooper and hits the Rock River, Pierce Lake or Lake Geneva. He also enjoys the loyal company of Theo, his black Labrador retriever, who occasionally sleeps under Sorensen’s feet during evening broadcasts. “I call him the ‘Weather Lab,’” Sorensen quips.
As well-respected as he is, Sorensen sometimes swings and misses when it comes to predictions. When Gibbs-Green got married in an outdoor ceremony in October 2010, Sorensen was a member of the wedding party. Unfortunately, temperatures dropped to the low 30s that day, prompting the year’s first snow flurries.
All was not lost, however.
“Fortunately, the sun came out eventually,” she says. “I guess it was a good thing to have a meteorologist in the wedding after all.”
Says Sorensen: “I’m just happy she didn’t kick me out of the party that day.”