Meet Damon Lane - Moore's Weather WizardApr 02, 2019
Photos Courtesy: Damon Lane and KOCO News
“If you’d asked me 20 years ago where I was going to end up I don’t think that I ever would have expected or thought I’d be here in Moore,” says KOCO Chief Meteorologist Damon Lane.
The road to Oklahoma began in Fairfax County, Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C. Lane happily admits to growing up as something of a science nerd.
“My mom was a science teacher,” says Lane. “I’ll never forget in 7th grade one of the local TV stations were doing a thing called, ‘Weather at Your School” and putting weather stations at local schools. Of course, I picked up the phone, got the ball rolling, and we ended up with a weather station at our middle school.”
Lane says he spent a lot of time watching the Weather Channel, even though it basically repeated every 7 minutes. But high school was also pretty standard, even for a weather-and-science-obsessed kid like him.
“It was all about girls, baseball, and swimming back in high school,” said Lane. “I completely overlooked all of the cool museums and things Washington has to offer, like the Smithsonian. My dad still lives there, and when we go back now, we’re like the biggest tourists ever.”
When it came time for college, Lane chose Old Dominion University in Norfolk and picked up his first degree in Communication and Mass Media. While he was doing an internship at WTKR, the local CBS affiliate, the station meteorologist asked him, “If you’re not getting a meteorology degree, why do you want to go into meteorology?” So Lane finished up his degree and Old Dominion and then quickly enrolled at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, where he got his degree in Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences (the only Chief Meteorologist in Oklahoma City with that degree). As his college career wound down, Lane began the difficult search for a job, sending out 200 resumes and tapes all over the country.
“Back in the 90’s we didn’t have YouTube or DVD’s,” said Lane, “So we were sending out these big, bulky videotapes as our video resumes.”
His first interview was with a TV station in Mason City, Iowa. When he finished interviewing there, there was a call waiting from another station in Abilene, Texas. Lane says he interviewed with the Texas station and a few weeks later they offered him the job. There was one small problem: the job offer came in March, and he was still in school, finishing up his degree.
“The head of my department told me, we’ll let you leave early, but you still have to do your homework online,” said Lane. “So I went out to Abilene and started work in April, finished up my classwork online, walked across the stage to get my meteorology degree in May, and was lucky enough to have a job already.”
After four-and-a-half years in Abilene, Lane was ready to move up. He had offers from stations in Seattle, Memphis, Austin, Indianapolis, and Oklahoma City. Lane says as he looked over the offers he realized there was only one real choice to be made.
“I realized that as a young meteorologist if I was going to get my feet wet in Tornado Alley, then Oklahoma City was definitely the place to do that,” said Lane.
Lane and his family settled in Moore, but he admits he initially thought his stay in Oklahoma would be a brief one because most meteorologists don’t really leave once they make it here.
“Rick Mitchell was the chief meteorologist at KOCO at that time,” said Lane. “Gary England had been here forever, and Mike Morgan had also been around a long time. I remember thinking there’s not really going to be much room for me to move up.”
But it’s funny how things work out. Lane moved to OKC in 2009 and began doing the weekend mornings. Three years later, Mitchell was given the opportunity to move to Dallas, and Lane stepped into the chief meteorologist role, moving to the prime time spot on the evening news in a city most feel is the epic-center of the weather world, right in the middle of Tornado Alley.
“OKC is a mid-sized market,” said Lane, “It’s ranked around 41 out of 210 television markets in the country. But when severe weather hits, everybody turns to Oklahoma City to see what we’re going to do and how we’re going to cover the weather.”
In fact, Oklahoma City meteorologists are celebrated by their peers for their coverage of severe weather, drawing attention from all over the world.
“We’re out here launching helicopters and flying them around tornadoes,” said Lane. “We have all these storm chasers getting close to the storm, and we’ll start showing up on national and international feeds, getting phone calls from ABC national and countries from all over the world who are fascinated by our weather and what we do.”
Severe weather can be deadly for Oklahomans. With lives on the line, local meteorologists are held to an extremely high standard by viewers who count on them to provide critical and timely information. A big storm can make or break meteorologists in the eyes of those viewers.
“Rick was at KOCO for seven years before he faced that May 3, 1999 storm,” said Lane. “During those seven years a lot of people weren’t sure they could take him seriously because there were a lot of smaller storms, but he had never had to deal with a major storm. He gained a lot of respect in the aftermath.”
Lane faced the same kinds of early criticisms when he took the chief meteorologist spot in 2012. Then came May 20, 2013, and Lane found himself on the air as an EF-5 tornado took aim at Moore, the town where he and his family lived.
“It’s one thing to handle an EF-5 tornado,” said Lane. “It’s a whole ‘nother thing to deal with it when it’s coming through the town you live in. No one teaches you in school how to prepare yourself for that, for the fact that your family is in the path of a monster storm like that.”
When you watch the tapes of that day, you see a meteorologist who is calm and in control. From the outside looking in, it’s clear that Lane weathered the storm like a seasoned pro. But he admits it wasn’t easy.
“I look back at it even today, and it feels like a blur,” said Lane. “I had never seen destruction like that before. I had never heard people tell the stories you hear after going through that kind of storm.”
Lane says he learned a lot from the experience, but it still impacts him today.
“Every single tornado warning that comes through I still think about May 20th, 2013 and what it was like after that and knowing that, just like that, someone’s life is about to change,” said Lane.
The tools for meteorologists are getting better and better, allowing more accurate forecasts. Lane says a typical day begins with pouring over data for up to an hour-and-a-half before starting to put together a forecast.
“There’s so much computer data out there nowadays,” said Lane, “Especially when we look back at what we had 20 or 30 years ago. As computers get more powerful, the ability to fine-tune weather models and date allows us to be more precise.”
That forecasting power is critical in this part of the country, something that Oklahoma residents are well aware of.
“One of the biggest challenges here is that this is the breeding ground for where these big storms begin,” said Lane. “When you get over the east of Oklahoma they’ve been watching these storms develop and move halfway across the United States. Here, we’re trying to forecast something that’s developing right on our doorstep, not something that has been brewing five states away and moving in.”
Lane says severe weather can be challenging, but winter weather can make a meteorologist crazy.
“When it comes to winter forecasting, you’re sitting there with eight different computer models coming in, and each one is telling you something just a little bit different,” said Lane.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that forecasting snow and forecasting rain are two vastly different things. Lane says meteorologists in Oklahoma use what’s called a “10-to-1 ratio” for winter precipitation.
“It means that 1-inch of rain equals 10-inches of snow,” said Lane. “So when you hear us forecasting 1 or 2 inches of snow, that would be the summertime equivalent of trying to forecast between .1 and .2 inches of rain. The difference is so incredibly small; it’s crazy to think about.”
When that snow doesn’t materialize, as happens from time to time in Oklahoma, social media fills up with negative comments from people unhappy with the forecasts. Lane says that’s just part of being a meteorologist.
“I say this to every intern we get: you have to have thick skin or this business will rip you apart,” said Lane. “It’s frustrating, but you just have to be able to brush it off and tell people to have a nice day.”
Lane and his family make it a point to experience a lot of beautiful days away from work by embracing a passion for travel.
“Some people spend their money on boats,” said Lane, “Some like to spend it fixing up their car or their house. My wife and I love to travel and experience new places, cultures, and people all over the world. We also like to introduce our daughter to new cultures as well.”
The Lane family has made trips to Poland, Germany, and Asia and is planning a trip to Iceland this year.
“This is the science nerd in me coming out,” said Lane. “I’ve always wanted to see the midnight sun, so we’re going to Northern Iceland to experience the Summer Solstice event up there.”
The various trips have produced wonderful memories for Lane and his family. They were able to trace his ancestor’s roots in Poland and shop for lederhosen in Germany. But one of the more special memories came on a trip to Asia.
“My daughter had just turned two and had learned to talk,” said Lane, “And I looked over, and she was sitting there, holding hands with a little boy who was also about two years old. Neither of them was able to speak the other’s language, there they were just having fun.”
You’ll also see plenty of photos from the mountains on Lane’s social media accounts. Lane is an avid skier who likes to hit the slopes as much as possible.
“Cold weather never bothers me,” said Lane. “In the winter you’ll usually find pictures of me on the mountains skiing.”
But home for Lane and his family is definitely Moore, a town they love even as they get the familiar “tornado question” most Moore residents have been asked at one time or another: “Why do you stay here after the city keeps getting hit by storms?”
“We love being here,” said Lane. “My wife and I have long-term plans to stay in Oklahoma. As a matter of fact, we just bought a brand new house in Moore. As a meteorologist, it doesn’t get any better than being in Oklahoma City. Sure, the weather can be scary, but we’re happy to be here.”
If you'd like to check out our conversation with Damon on the brand-new Moore Monthly Podcast, here's your link:
Moore Monthly Podcast - Damon Lane