FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — As a recent hurricane lashed the Louisiana coast, nervous excitement churned inside Florida-based, self-proclaimed weather geek turned storm chaser Mike Boylan.
The winds howled as he started up his white pickup truck and ventured away from the relative safety of a car wash northwest of New Orleans where he’d ridden out the early hours of Hurricane Ida in late August.
“I drove down this one road and, holy cow, the trees started falling,” Boylan, 48, recounted.
The slowly moving storm suddenly took a turn north, forcing him to make a U-turn and speed away, trees snapping and power lines falling around him.
“It was a little scary, I’ll admit,” Boylan said. “It was more than I bargained for. There were some moments in my truck that I was saying, ‘Just get me somewhere.’ I wanted to get the heck off the road.”
He soon found refuge at a LaQuinta Inn in nearby Boutte, Louisiana, quickly going live on Facebook to share Ida's fury with his 1.1 million followers on Mike’s Weather Page.
“You could hear all the damage going on around us," he said. “You could see sheet metal flying."
Would he do it again?
“Absolutely. There’s a little storm junkie in me, there’s no doubt," Boylan said recently from his suburban Tampa home. “I guess it’s a weird obsession."
He’s become an online darling among those who turn to him for their hurricane season fix, propelling him into the realm of social media influencers. But it’s his humble, down-to-earth nature that draws many to the beer-drinking, baseball- and NASCAR-loving guy who has always been fascinated by hurricanes.
“I grew up obsessed with The Weather Channel," Boylan said, “I would always wake up in the morning and see if the cone shifted. You always get that excitement, like ‘Oh, my God’ the cone is coming closer.”
He started Mike's Weather Page in 2004 as a one-stop shop for weather information during a tumultuous six-week span that saw four hurricanes crisscross Florida.
At first he only shared it with family and friends. Then it started getting clicks, spreading by word of mouth, and later by Facebook likes.
“When I started, I only focused on Florida. And then I got some people getting upset because I wasn’t talking about Texas storms or North Carolina storms,"
Today, he's expanded to Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, while keeping up the original website, spaghettimodels.com. His videos have been picked up by television stations and websites, including The Weather Channel.
The marketing and business major quit what he calls his “summer job” to focus on Mike’s Weather Page. In the winter, he does some event planning.
“For me to be successful in the weather, I almost have to live and breathe it 24 hours a day to stay on top of things,” he said. “That’s what people like."
With that comes recognition. Fans now spot him almost everywhere he goes. They also recognize his wife, Julie, and daughters, Emily, 15, and Sarah, 12. The family’s two French bulldogs are also popular — possibly because Mike let fans name the second dog, Hunter (for hurricane hunters).
“It’s humbling,” Boylan said. “That kind of stuff just freaks me out, especially when I’m 800 miles from home and run into people who recognize me.”
While chasing Hurricane Zeta in Biloxi, Mississippi, last year, a woman knocked on his truck window, saying she had seen his livestream and realized he was parked just down the road from her house.
When the Boylans took a Labor Day weekend trip to the Florida Panhandle, more than 60 people showed up for an impromptu meet-and-greet at a beach market on Cape San Blas.
Market owners Tyler and Claire Matney became “massive followers" of Mike's Weather Page soon after moving from Arizona to Florida in 2017.
“I had never been anywhere that had anything like a hurricane. That was totally, totally foreign to us,” Tyler Matney.
Then, in October 2018, Hurricane Michael slammed into Mexico Beach. Boylan was warning of the dangers of Michael well before it became a Category 5 storm. The Matneys and many others took note.
“I don’t think Mike realized exactly how popular he is in this town,” Matney said. “Everybody here was just tuned in to Mike every step of that process to get through that hurricane. You can’t go on Facebook here locally when there’s a storm and not see people sharing his stuff.”
Dr. Rick Knabb, a former director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami who is now a chief meteorologist at The Weather Channel, says weather bloggers can help people stay safe as long as they relay official National Weather Service information, along with instructions from local and state emergency managers.
“Weather blogs and social media accounts with large followings have an opportunity to amplify a consistent safety message during particularly dangerous weather events," Knabb said.
Boylan, who became the first civilian to win the Tropical Meteorology Award at this year's Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference, tells people upfront that he’s not a meteorologist and says he leaves it to professionals to offer advice on putting up shutters or evacuating.
Jean Jenkins, a fourth-generation Floridian who started following Boylan during Hurricane Irma in 2017, said she appreciates that he doesn't “hype" storms.
“He is genuine, funny and sincere, and transparent in his degree of knowledge,” she said, “His calming personality is extremely comforting during high stress weather systems."
Freida Frisaro, The Associated Press