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LI meteorologist inspired by Bill Paxton’s character in ‘Twister’

Carlie Buccola, now a National Weather Service meteorologist

Carlie Buccola, now a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, with actor Bill Paxton three to four years ago. Paxton played the role of storm chaser Bill Harding in the 1996 movie "Twister." Credit: Twitter / Carlie Buccola

With much of the country anticipating Sunday’s red-carpet posturings and Oscar presentations, Carlie Buccola’s focus was on an actor who, years earlier, had influenced her life’s work, as well as that of others in her field.

Buccola, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Upton, took to Twitter, as did other weather professionals and aficionados, to bid a final farewell to actor Bill Paxton.

Paxton, whose death at 61 was announced on Sunday, may have been better known for roles in the likes of “Apollo 13,” “Titanic” and HBO’s “Big Love” — but it was his playing storm chaser Bill “The Extreme” Harding in the 1996 movie “Twister” that led to their series of #rip testimonials.

In the film, “he’s not just a storm chaser who is in it for the ‘thrill’ or the perfect photo op,” Buccola said in an email. “His character and many others in the movie all have a genuine interest and passion for the science,” which corresponds to the same commitment of those in her line of work.

The plot line involves “Bill and Jo Harding, advanced storm chasers on the brink of divorce,” as described on movie site The two “must join together to create an advanced weather alert system by putting themselves in the cross-hairs of extremely violent tornadoes.”

Buccola, 29, tells of first seeing “Twister” when she was in third grade — and already smitten by weather — when her mom took her and a friend to an after-school movie.

Having grown up in Valley Stream, she said she was already well-acquainted with blizzards, but this movie opened her eyes to tornadoes, which quickly became the weather phenomenon in which she has the most interest.

“I would like to think I would have become a meteorologist without ‘Twister,’ ” she said. “However, it did have influence on me.”

She went on to earn an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science from the State University of New York at Albany and a graduate degree in earth science education from LIU Post.

Three to four years ago, she and Paxton met up in a television studio when she was in a previous job.

Buccola said she “was more than thrilled” to tell him how she had been impacted by the movie and his character. And, as nice in real life as many of the characters he portrayed, he “loved hearing that my chosen career path was influenced by one of his movies,” she said.

On Sunday, she tweeted a photo from that meeting, saying: “That time I met Bill Paxton and talked about how much we both loved #twister. So sad! #BillPaxton.”

Also weighing in with a Twitter tribute was Buccola’s employer, the weather service, which tweeted Paxton’s photo and said:

“Twister was an inspiration to many budding meteorologists over the last 20 years. Thank you, Bill Paxton, a.k.a. Bill “The Extreme” Harding.”

A group of close to 200 storm chasers also expressed appreciation by spelling out Paxton’s initials on a virtual map that centers on Wakita, Oklahoma, the area where “Twister” was filmed.

Participants used GPS coordinates, appearing as red dots, to create the B and P on the map, which was “liked” and retweeted hundreds of times. The effort was coordinated by Spotter Network, a nonprofit that, among other things, tracks locations of storm spotters and chasers.

“There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of meteorologists today — myself included — who were impacted by the movie ‘Twister’ and the role Bill played in that,” said John Wetter, the organization’s president, in a phone interview with the Associated Press.

“ ‘Twister,’” he said, “was kind of the first time in a mass media marketplace the meteorologist became cool, if only for a little while.”

— With the Associated Press

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