Periodically, MyJerseyShore.com puts the spotlight on an individual who helps make the Jersey Shore the special place it is. You’ll see interviews with musicians, casino entertainers, business executives, chefs and other Jersey Shore celebrities.
This month’s interview is with Dan Skeldon, chief meteorologist for The Press of Atlantic City and Longport Media – a communications company based in Linwood, New Jersey that owns and operates radio stations WOND (1400AM), WBSS (1490AM), WMGM (103.7FM), WTKU (98.3FM), and WWAC (102.7FM).
1. Where did you grow up and where did you go to college? I’m a native New Englander – still have the Boston accent – and I grew up in Cumberland, Rhode Island (where my family still lives). I went to Cornell University where I majored in meteorology and graduated with a B.S. in Meteorology in 1998.
2. Why did you decide to go into meteorology? Like South Jersey, New England weather changes frequently and often dramatically. I think it was the power and diversity of that weather that sparked my interest. In particular, Hurricane Gloria in September of 1985. While South Jersey got a “glancing” blow, New England got a direct hit. And as an impressionable 9-year old kid, I was “blown away” and that storm made its mark on me by setting me on my dream to become a meteorologist.
3. How has forecasting changed in the past ten years? The continued development of computer models as a tool in forecasting has dramatically changed the science of meteorology, and has led to both an increased accuracy in weather forecasts, as well as more confidence in forecasting farther out in time as well. For example, what were 4 or 5 day forecasts on most TV stations and media outlets are now at least 7-day forecasts, with some even longer. In addition, advancements in radar technology have led to better severe-weather forecasting and tornado detection, greatly increasing warning times. That, in turn, likely prevents injuries and saves lives. Finally, social media has GREATLY increased a forecaster’s ability to freely and immediately disseminate weather forecasts and information.
4. What is your opinion of global warming? It is a reality or is it just a trend that will reverse itself eventually? That’s one of the questions I’m asked most often, from kindergarteners to senior citizens, and one of the more controversial ones as well. Climatology, or the study of longer term weather patterns, is not my field of expertise. I focus on 7 to 10 day forecasting, which, as you know, can by itself give a forecaster plenty of challenges and headaches. But I do have an opinion on global warming which is my own, and based on my understanding of weather patterns, current data, and my meteorological background. And honestly, I do NOT believe in global warming. I believe the Earth, specifically the Northern Hemisphere, did warm through the 1990s and into the first few years of this century as well. But I do believe that process has stalled and will even reverse for the next few decades. I subscribe to the belief that the weather is cyclical, and we alternate through hot and cold, stormy and quiet, dry and wet cycles. While I don’t support the theory of global warming or climate change, I do believe humans should be more environmentally friendly, and I also support green and renewable energy initiatives.
5. What makes forecasting the weather at the Jersey Shore challenging? In my last television job, I forecasted for a much larger and topographically diverse area (Northern NY/New England) that encompassed three mountain ranges and three river valleys. South Jersey occupies the predominantly flat coastal plain, and my coverage area spans a 50 by 50 mile area from Hammonton to Cape May, and from Bridgeton to Atlantic City. Yet between the two, South Jersey can be, and usually is, the more meteorologically challenging area to forecast for. The Atlantic Ocean is the number one reason, but our proximity to both the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays also has an impact. Sea and bay breezes can change storm intensity, track, precipitation type, temperatures, and so forth. I’ve been forecasting South Jersey weather for over a decade now, and while I’ve become a better forecaster through experience over the past ten years, my education is never complete. And that’s thanks to the sometimes fickle, sometimes frustrating (to forecast), and always challenging world of South Jersey weather.
6. In the winter, South Jersey seems to have a cold spot between Millville and Hammonton. What causes that? Quite simply, it’s the Pinelands. More specifically, the sandy soil that makes up the Pinelands. Because the soil is sandier, it radiates heat more efficiently than harder soil. So when skies are clear and winds are calm (and especially when you have a fresh snowpack), the Pinelands provide the perfect conditions for “radiational cooling,” and some of the coldest temperatures in all of New Jersey. It’s kind of cool to see Millville, Estell Manor, or Folsom colder than folks in the normally colder northwest corner of the Garden State. But the Pinelands make that possible when conditions are just right.
7. You visit a lot of schools. What kinds of questions do the kids ask? School visits are one of the best parts of my job, I think because I’m a kid at heart when it comes to weather (and just as big a snow lover!). So I thrive off their enthusiasm for the world of weather. Besides the common questions like “What’s it like to be on TV?” or “What’s the green screen really like?” or “What’s your favorite type of weather?” or “What’s the worst storm you’ve ever been in?,” kids really do say the darndest things. They’ve asked personal questions about my marital status (I’m engaged, but one kid wanted to fix me up with his mom), whether or not I have kids of my own, questions about my dog Bailey and what sports teams I like (I’m an avid New England/Boston fan all the way!).
8. In the summer, why does the wind direction have so much effect on the ocean temperature? You wouldn’t think at first that the wind is so key in determining our ocean temperature, but it is a huge factor. That’s because if the wind is from the east, or southeast, or even south, it “pushes” warmer water offshore (that’s there thanks to the warm Gulf Stream current off the coast) in our direction. So those winds pile the warmer water towards our coast, and our ocean temperature rises. But, when the wind is southwest, or west, or northwest, those winds promote what we call “upwelling.” Winds from those directions will push warmer water near the surface away from the coast and farther out to sea, and colder water from below comes up to the surface as a result.
9. You have thousands of followers on social media. Is social media changing the way people get news and weather? Absolutely, as it’s the biggest change in how people get their weather, and how forecasters can disseminate weather information. I’m flattered to have 30,000+ followers on Facebook and Twitter, and the ease of posting on Facebook or sending a tweet allows for a two-way street of communication. I can rapidly and immediately send important weather warnings, information, pictures, forecasts, or comments out to tens of thousands with a click of a mouse. But my valuable and vital social networking community also serves as a strong weather watcher network of sorts, relaying important information, observations, and pictures to me as well. I can in turn retweet or repost their findings, and we’ve come full circle. In short, social media allows me to more effectively do my job, which is simply to communicate a (hopefully) accurate weather forecast to as many people as possible, especially in times of severe weather. It also allows me to interact (chat, message and email) with the public much easier, which I also find extremely valuable. One negative I must mention: social networking also allows the occasional distribution of false information or weather hype, which can also spread just as quickly as credible forecasts can. So it can lead to extra work to dispel rumors of storms, or calm people’s fears after incorrect posts or tweets go viral. But again, the value of Facebook and Twitter to me is priceless, and is well worth the extra hours they often bring to each workday!
10. What is your favorite Jersey Shore beach? From September to May, it’s 18th Street to 34th Street in Ocean City. I walk or jog it every day – no matter what the weather is – with my dog Bailey at my side. Of course it’s nice in the summer too, but I go a few times a month instead of daily.
Dan can be reached on Facebook or on Twitter at @ACPressSkeldon.