The weather…what can I say? Down here in the Southern Louisiana—and what seems to be occurring more often all across the country—we live and die by it. These days, it’s not just a matter of putting on some extra layers, moving a party indoors or toting an umbrella, it’s about situations where we decide to evacuate during a hurricane or, in the case of Sandy, residents who decide to stay put and hope for the best. One integral element we have to consider is the news reporter who has to deliver us the status of the weather—good or bad—and more often than not, some consider them to be the highest paid inaccurate people in the world. They couldn’t be more wrong; it’s not that these meteorologists are not doing their job, it’s that the atmosphere is becoming so volatile and they’re trying their best to report what they know as soon as they know it. When it comes to the weather, there may be a Doppler radar, but there is certainly no crystal ball.
So, when the prospect of interviewing weatherman Damon Singleton of WDSU came along, I was extremely intrigued to gain some insight into the daily process of his job and his meteorological passion. Singleton received his degree in meteorology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston and the day after, was commissioned from the Navy ROTC program at Rice. “I was off on what I thought was going to be a four-year career in the Navy and it turned out to be 22 years,” said Singleton.
His tour took him around the world to places such as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Mogadishu as well as included involvement in Operation Preying Mantis during the Reagan administration. Despite being in battle, Singleton had nothing but positive things to say about his career in the military. “I’m proud of my service and what we accomplished and especially the leadership I think I provided to the very places I’ve been and the ship I operated on,” said Singleton who is also compassionate about the mental challenges of the armed forces deployed at the moment. “What they are going through right now is much different from what I experienced…if I were involved in ten years of continuous warfare with deployment after deployment after deployment, I just don’t know. I wasn’t affected in a negative way, but I am sure my answer would be different if I were involved now.”
Singleton decided to retire from the Navy after over two decades because he met his future wife and the further you advance in the military, the more your time is not your own. “I worked with this general who had a family and I was surprised if he could even remember his son’s first name since he was always traveling,” said Singleton. “I just didn’t want to be like him.”
Now, Singleton is a proud father of three, married to a pediatric oncologist and very open about the fact that he never really intended to pursue a career in broadcasting. “TV was never my plan, actually. I studied meteorology with the intention of working at the National Hurricane Center or the National Weather Center,” explained Singleton. “While I was in school, one of my professors said out of the blue one day that I had the ‘face for TV’.”
Having a “face” for TV is no small accomplishment but what makes Singleton different is there’s a substantial amount of brains behind the beauty. After a short tenure at the NROTC at Southern University in Baton Rouge, he’s been at WDSU for seven years and absolutely adores it. Through his connections that include schoolmates in the media business in New Orleans, Singleton made some demo tapes that didn’t get much response but through a military relationship that knew the news director at a local channel, he got his break. “Next thing you know, I’ve got an interview with Andrew Williams. I was with him for like 45 minutes and what a cool guy,” said Singleton. “It was great and we had a good conversation. Some of the questions were a bit weird but [he said] when you’re on air, you have to be able to respond.” At this point, Singleton stopped, took a breath and chuckled. “I was like, ‘what do you think I’ve been doing for the last 23 years?’” Apparently being in battle might, at that moment, pale in comparison to reporting the weather in New Orleans—that’s my opinion, not Singleton’s.
Singleton is very frank about his thoughts on being on television and has come to like it more than he thought he would. “I’ve always been fascinated with the weather since I was a kid and so I love that part of the job,” he explained. “The hours are hard sometimes and when the schedule changes, it’s a little difficult especially with my wife’s schedule.” Despite the challenges, Singleton remains humbled about his opportunity in broadcasting. “Andrew Williams took a chance on me because people don’t usually start in a city like New Orleans. They start in some po-dunk town in Arkansas and move up, so I was really lucky in that respect,” said Singleton who admits his current position allows him to pursue other passions. “Being on TV has enabled me to engage in my other passion which is advancing African American men. That exposure has resulted in me being able to talk to and mentor a lot of kids…I spend a lot of time doing what I can to change lives.”
When Singleton is not in front of the green screen reporting the high and low temperatures, he’s out promoting literacy with his relationship with Adventure Advantage for schools. “We’re there for administering a program we have called Real Men Read and another called Books For Bikes,” he said. Singleton also works one-on-one with some kids as well. One of whom is Gilbert who is about to head off to the Air Force and Singleton seems especially proud of him.
Although he enjoys his position at WDSU, Singleton admits that hurricane season can be especially challenging when having to relocate to outlying areas to report to the people of New Orleans. He recalled being in Orlando, Florida during a recent hurricane season. “I was basically in the studio for several days. We had constant rain and blow-up mattresses. I slept, got up and went back on the air for a half a day and slept a little longer and got back and did the weather.” According to Singleton, this process could go on for a week or more depending on the path of the storm. He also admits he is reluctant to join celebrities like Al Roker outside in torrential rain and wind. “I have no desire for that to be me. If they ask me to do that I would, but I haven’t been asked,” said Singleton. “I don’t have to be in 60 mile per hour winds in order to tell you how bad they are.”
When I asked him about the perception of weather reporters being paid to be inaccurate most of the time, he was adamant that it wasn’t true. “We try to keep everyone as up to date as possible and how changes [in the weather] will affect them,” said Singleton. “I remember a couple of years ago I was doing a forecast for Mardi Gras and I was showing how the computer forecast model was showing that we were going to be dry all day because there was this huge mass of dry air above us and then I looked at it and thought it was wrong. This air is going to get saturated over time and we’re going to get a little light rainfall and sure enough, when I left the station, it started raining,” said Singleton who often gets not-so-nice feedback from residents about his predictions. “People say to me ‘hey, you said it wasn’t going to rain today’ but people sometimes hear what they want to hear. What I said was that the computer said it wasn’t going to rain and I said it was.” Singleton is confident about his own ability to predict the weather. “Ladies call me for weather for their weddings and if I know where it’s taking place and at that time, I can usually predict the weather for that location,” he explained. “Otherwise, I’m talking to everybody and if I say that there’s a 70% chance of rainfall and if you don’t see it, it’s because you’re in the 30% that didn’t get any.”
Singleton recently spoke at the Women’s Youth Empowerment Network (WYEN) where he was set to encourage women to pursue their dreams. “I want them to be proactive and to take the bull by the horns and not be afraid to live your dreams. If you want to be an engineer or a CEO or whatever it is, you should be that and not think that just because you’re a woman, you can’t.”
Due to the fact that Singleton retired from the Navy as a commander, the title has stuck with him at WDSU and remains an influence in his personal life. He works out frequently to stay healthy and to be an authoritative figure to the males who will eventually attempt to date his two daughters. “I exercise in the weight room because I want to keep up with my son, but I want to be an imposing figure when my daughters show up with some boys, so when they see me, they think they should stay in line,” joked Singleton.
Now, if we could only get his workouts to control the hurricane season here in New Orleans, we’d be golden—we look forward to that day Mr. Weatherman. Keep us posted after the commercial break.