The morning is sunny. The a.m. meteorologist has predicted sun all day but by 1 p.m. it’s raining. You curse said meteorologist because your car windows are partially open, umbrella is in the car and you’re wearing a new pair of shoes.
No one ever said it was easy being a meteorologist — it’s always the mistakes the public remembers. It’s a profession that requires one to be an academic, an entertainer and a soothsayer all wrapped up in one.
Predicting weather has been an obsession for men and women ever since, well, we traipsed through the Garden of Eden. It’s a science that has attracted the interest and contributions from such diverse personages as Aristotle (who coined the word meteorology), Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Francis Bacon, Sir Christopher Wren, Benjamin Franklin and a de Medici. All were drawn to the challenge of trying to find ways to predict the weather. However, Mother Nature had something else in mind.
Today, meteorologists (which sounds much more official than weather forecasters) rely on their education, computers, satellite images, high-tech weather balloons, radar (yes, including Doppler) and gut instinct to predict our daily rain or shine and, most importantly starting this month, hurricanes.
And after one of the New Orleans area’s most devastating hurricanes – Katrina – a new meteorologist joined the city’s exclusive club of those who professionally throw the dice on weather – Dawn Brown.
Brown first came to my attention a little over a year ago when a friend of mine and I were watching TV and he all of a sudden said, “Is she new? She’s cute. And I really like those glasses. They look like something a dominatrix would wear.” Whether Brown knew it or not, a cult was born. If someone didn’t know her name, they knew the glasses (the rectangular black rimmed ones, to be precise). Her name popped up a few months later when for this magazine I interviewed Fr. William Maestri, who praised her personality, talent – and dancing skills.
Behind the glasses, Brown has the brains, the drive and a genuine passion for what she does. And guess what? She’s a math and science geek. She doesn’t like getting the weather forecast wrong – but she’s going to try to make sure those new fancy Jimmy Choo shoes or a day of fishing won’t get ruined by the rain.
Age: 35 Born: Ventura, Calif.; grew up in Ojai, Calif. Family: Mother and stepfather; Father; one sister and a niece; two half brothers. Mr. Quick, my toy fox terrier named after the family plumbing and heating company. My parents are kind of hippyesque – we had no TV growing up. Education: A degree in political science (with an emphasis on international economy) from UCLA; degree in meteorology from Mississippi State University. Favorite book: I’m always looking for a good biography. I’m currently reading a biography about Mark Twain and An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963. But my favorite book is Robinson Crusoe. My dad gave it to me about 10, 15 years ago and I never cracked it open. Years later I read it and I loved it. Favorite movies: I like romantic comedies. Favorite TV show: Right now, Heroes. Favorite food: My comfort food is pasta. Favorite New Orleans restaurant: I’m still trying them all! Hobbies: I like running. I play tennis and golf.
How did you start out? I started doing TV news in 1994 and switched to being a meteorologist in 1997. I was a reporter at a station, KFDM, in Beaumont, Texas. My desk was right next to the meteorologist and one day I asked him, “What do you do?” I then went to school [Mississippi State University] to get my degree.
What was your hardest class? Thermodynamics.
When did you start at WWL-TV/Channel 4? September 2005, right after Hurricane Katrina. I worked up in Baton Rouge when the station was temporarily located there.
How did you catch their eye? I submitted a tape to a talent agent. I was hired to temporarily help out WWL after the storm. When they asked me to stay, I was hesitant as I didn’t want to move again and before I came to New Orleans, I was helping out my father’s business and didn’t want to leave him in a bind. It costs money to move. But I have a friend from Louisiana who has family in New Orleans and they helped. I also like a challenge – New Orleans has such severe weather – and there’s a good quality of life down here, which is very important to me.
Were you always interested in being a meteorologist? I am a math geek. My grandfather used to set up a chalkboard when I was young and we would do math equations together. But I initially didn’t think of meteorology as a career. When I went to UCLA, I was thinking about being a doctor but realized I didn’t want to be one.
Where else have you forecasted the weather? At TV stations in Reno, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Was it hard learning how to gesture in front of the screen which shows the weather? Did you ever screw up – saying one thing, and point to another place? It’s been so long ago, I don’t remember. I do remember that it really wasn’t that hard.
So what is it like in front of the camera? You have three minutes to tell a weather story through graphics. There is no teleprompter, so what you hear me say is live.
So, tell me about your glasses – you know they’re your trademark. I bought the black glasses about five years ago. They were what was in fashion at the time. My vision isn’t that bad, I just used to battle with contacts. I do have two other pairs of glasses, though.
What happens when you say it’s going to be sunny and then it rains? If something isn’t as what was predicted, it could be a number of things. Much goes into a forecast and it’s only as good as the information I get. We look at data obtained via the National Weather Service, which sends up weather balloons in the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico. We use computer models, into which we enter current conditions and our own analysis. So there’s the possibility that the data I got was wrong. Also, when you see clouds, there’s always the chance that they will produce more moisture than originally thought.
But I think meteorologists do a much better job now with the advent of computers. We are better at predicting daily weather. Conditions can alter after a day, so you always need to be vigilant, pay attention – a seven-day forecast can change quickly.
In the early years of TV, the “weather girl” was often portrayed – or stereotyped – as a bimbo. Have you encountered anyone who has treated you like one? I’ve had problems like this my entire life. People underestimate me and I can’t let it get the better of me.
You’re from California – have you ever felt an earthquake? Yes, but it’s not really a big deal. You often feel small tremors. But I was in Los Angeles area for the Northridge earthquake in 1994. It was a 6.7.
What do you miss about California? I like running and I miss running up and down hills, as well as the hiking.
What do you like about New Orleans? It has a European feel. It’s the only city in America like this – though maybe some parts of New York City could compare.
Any plans for the future? I eventually want to teach meteorology and related sciences at a college.
True confession: I rowed crew in college, and won a national championship in pairs rowing.
Dawn Brown is on WWL-TV/Channel 4 during the noon, 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts on Saturday; and noon, 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Sunday.