Dan Skeldon never applied to be South Jersey's weatherman. But now, after 10 years at NBC-TV 40, Skeldon says he never wants to leave.
The Rhode Island native has fallen in love with this area, and with another one of its residents - he got engaged a few months ago to Amanda Major, who grew up in Egg Harbor Township, not far from Channel 40's Linwood studios.
And crucially for a guy who has been obsessed with the weather since he was 9, and who used to walk around his high school handing out copies of his personal daily forecast, Skeldon has fallen in love with our weather. He enjoys its mini-mysteries and its micro-climates - and its occasional massive differences in conditions within a few short miles of each other. That's not just between islands and mainland; sometimes, shockingly, it's even from one island to the next.
"I'm still learning about the little, tiny corner of the world I forecast," he says, in an interview that starts on a quiet, between-shows news set, a few feet from Skeldon's domain - the corner of the studio marked "South Jersey Weather Center." (Not visible is the cot tucked away behind his corner where Skeldon has bunked out, sometimes several nights in a row, during hurricanes, blizzards and other big storms.)
"It's three counties" - Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland - "and I've been forecasting it for 10 years," Skeldon says. "And I still don't know everything there is to know. And I never will."
You bet that realization can cause frustrations for a weatherman who gives himself a grade every day for his predictions, who often goes back and watches the late rerun of his 11 o'clock Channel 40 news to see how he said what he had to say.
But Skeldon, at 37, has come to love the fact that in his station's small market, he has much more time to explain all these intricacies and subtleties to his audience than the meteorologists from the Philadelphia stations do when they touch on the weather "down the shore" - at least long enough to toss a few numbers into their summaries and forecasts.
"In Philadelphia, they have three minutes to do the weather for three states," says Skeldon, who lives a few blocks from the beach in Ocean City - and regularly goes to his local beach, or ones on nearby islands, for a first-hand look at how storms are behaving. "I have four or five minutes to do the weather for three counties."
And he says that by far his favorite part of the job is that at his station, it's enough for him to interpret and predict the weather. He doesn't have to sell and hype his weather, to blow up the next Big Storm to try to scare us out of our bathing suits - or our raincoats - on the theory that fear will keep our ears and eyes on the local news.
"The news philosophy in Philadelphia is to hype the weather, because weather sells," he says, in a critique he later expands to most major markets. "Weather drives ratings, ratings drive revenues, and therefore, the weather is hyped up."
He emphasizes that he doesn't blame his fellow TV weather types for that - he's friendly with some Philadelphia meteorologists, and he respects their work. But Skeldon says he worries about the effect their bosses' decisions will have on the credibility of his colleagues - and of his industry.
"Most major markets will hype storms to an incredible point," he says. "But then when a major storm actually happens, people are not going to believe you."
Skeldon says his best friend - a classmate from Cornell University, where Skeldon majored in meteorolgy -is a TV weatherman in Boston.
"He makes five times what I make," Skeldon says. "I'm envious of his salary. He's envious of my quality of life."
And Skeldon says it doesn't hurt his quality of life a bit that he gets recognized almost everywhere he goes in South Jersey.
"It will take me an extra hour to do my grocery shopping," he says - which seems about right to a South Jersey Weather Center visitor who once saw Skeldon get an almost-rock-star-like reception at the Somers Point ShopRite. (After the weatherman left an aisle, people were making calls to report sighting him. And when two friends ran into each other, one started the conversation by asking, urgently, "Did you see Dan?")
Skeldon is also a fan of Somers Point's Anchorage Tavern, where he met the woman he plans to marry next September - and where he says it can take him close to 45 minutes to get to his table for dinner, because people want to stop him and meet him and ask him about the weather.
But that's OK - "I love talking about the weather," he says, and he's more than happy to go into detail about what he expects to happen, and where, and why.
Plus Skeldon is remarkably open about his life off the air. He posted engagement pictures on his Facebook page after he popped the question to Major, a bank analyst, plus a close-up of the ring. They drew compliments and congratulations from friends around the country - even ones he'd never met, except online.
The weatherman is proud of his 31,000 or so followers on Facebook and Twitter and other social media, and he doesn't even seem to mind that those platforms let him work all the time - even when he's not getting paid. He appreciates the fact that he can update and improve his forecasts online, when it's too late to do it on the air. (Skeldon is also a regular after-hours and weekend voice on all the local radio stations owned by Longport Media, Channel 40's Linwood neighbor.)
Oh, and speaking of open, Skeldon actually puts his personal cell-phone number on his business cards - "And I go through a lot of business cards," he says.
That generous sharing has gotten him calls at home at 2 a.m., like one from a woman who heard thunder and called her favorite weatherman to ask about it. Skeldon's fiancee recalls one viewer calling closer to 5 a.m. - over urgent concerns about that weekend's weather, even if that was still a few days away.
Skeldon shares so much so regularly that when he's off from work - as he was this week, to join his family in New England for Thanksgiving - sometimes he has to has to promise himself (and his fiancee) that he'll also take "a Facebook vacation," he said.
Harvey Cox, Channel 40's news director, says Skeldon was the first person he hired when Cox got his job. The station needed a weatherman, Cox had seen an audition tape and passed it on to his then general manager, Ron Smith. The GM wasn't sold, but his wife was - "She said, 'You have to hire this guy,'" Cox reports, 10 years after the fact.
And Skeldon turned out to be a good hire.
"Viewers love him," Cox said. "He's become the weather voice for South Jersey."
For the record, Skeldon says Channel 40 came after him. He definitely needed a job after his former station in Vermont - where he was a cameraman and weekend weatherman - dropped its news operation. So Skeldon wanted to be somebody else's weatherman, and the South Jersey station recruited him, he adds.
One viewer who admits to being a Skeldon fan is Jim Eberwine, who knows a few things about local weather himself. Eberwine is a retired National Weather Service meteorologist who, after 38 years in the weather business, became emergency-management director in his hometown, Absecon.
"Dan forecasts for where he lives, and that's a major part at becoming better at your skill," says Eberwine, who recommended Skeldon as a panelist for a National Hurricane Center conference last year, and credits the weatherman as a big help to people in the public-safety business. Eberwine is also happy to report that he sees the same Skeldon when the bright lights are off as he does when the weatherman is on the air.
"He makes the weather the story, not himself," Eberwine said. "He could hold his own in a major market. But he's talking to the guy on Bay Avenue in Ocean City instead of talking into the camera and seeing a reflection of himself."
Skeldon swears he isn't interested in moving on up. He likes being where he is, and doing his best to get things right here.
"I thought NBC-40 was going to be a little stopover for me, a year or a few years," he says. "I never thought I'd be here for 10 years. I'm not going to make big money here but ... I hope I'm still here 10 years from now. I hope I'm in South Jersey for life."
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