A self-professed “weather goober,” Doug Hill was struck with the bug at seven years old, when a bolt of lightning hit his house
by Margaret Tearman
Good looking stuff out there on this afternoon, with temperatures in the 70s. Tonight will be clear and cool, low around 50, and lots of sunshine again tomorrow, but still a little cool for this time in May with afternoon highs again only in the mid 70s.
It is not flashy, but it is usually accurate and always reported with integrity. That’s what local weatherman Doug Hill says is the most important part of reporting the weather.
“The best part of my job is when I can make scary, severe weather days understandable,” he says. “I have to do this with authority, integrity and reliability. When bad weather happens, I need to go on the radio or on camera and tell everyone what’s happening and where. People need to trust you. Weather can be scary. If I can help save someone’s life, or even just make their day safer, better, that is the best thing that can happen. That is my best day on the job.”
Hill, our region’s chief meteorologist for ABC 7 News and weatherman for WTOP radio, spends his days studying the weather so he can safely guide us through summer downpours or urge us to seek shelter when dangerous weather threatens. To thousands of area commuters, he’s the weather part of the familiar WTOP jingle “traffic and weather together on the 8s.”
A self-professed “weather goober” Hill was struck with the bug at seven years old, when a bolt of lightning hit his house.
That bolt would chart his life’s course. “Some kids go crazy over baseball cards,” Hill says. “I went crazy over weather, and I have been obsessed by weather ever since then.”
Weather as a career, however, never dawned on Hill. “I never, ever thought about doing weather,” he says.
“But I believe in divine providence.”
Weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed.
Hill is a native Marylander, born and raised in Towson.
Out of high school, Hill attended Towson State in the turbulent 1970s. “Those were strange times. I didn’t know what road to choose, but I knew college wasn’t for me,” Hill recalls. “I was going only because I thought I had to.”
After two years, Hill decided to take a different road, leaving college before earning a degree.
“I thought I’d join the Air Force, serve my country and get a chance to travel around the world,” says Hill. “Little did I know I would be spending the next four years not far away from home at Andrews Air Force Base.”
At Andrews, Hill was part of the Presidential Support Detail. “Whenever the presidents, vice presidents or foreign heads of state would arrive, I would be part of the security detail,” recalls Hill.
As good as that gig was, it was another assignment with the Investigations Section of the 1002nd Security Police Squadron that would change the course of his career.
“I started working on base with kids who had a history of violations or issues, and I became the first juvenile officer in the squadron,” says Hill, who often worked in tandem with the Prince George’s County Police Department. “I investigated crimes and offenses committed by juveniles, worked with them in community service assignments and directed them to counseling. I would target areas that had special problems such as drugs in base housing areas and vehicle violations.”
For his outstanding achievement in reducing juvenile crime, Hill was awarded the prestigious Air Force Commendation Medal.
When his enlistment was up, Hill saw law enforcement as the logical step. He joined the Prince George’s County Police Department, where he served for the next six years.
Assigned to the public information office as police spokesman, he became the public face of the department.
“As I got to know the local reporters,” Hill recalls, “they would tell me, you don’t talk like a cop, you don’t get nervous, and you’re comfortable in front of a camera. Hey you should come over to our side.”
When his workday ended, he’d change out of his uniform into civvies and hang out with police reporters all night.
“I shadowed these guys. I was there when they did their stand-ups, and I started putting together my own demo tape by doing a follow-up to their stories,” he says. He spent every extra penny to make the tapes and send them to “every TV station from Bangor to Miami,” Hill recalls. “There were no takers.”
Until WWBT-TV Richmond’s news director called him.
Don’t knock the weather. If it didn’t change once in a while, nine out of 10 people couldn’t start a conversation.
Richmond didn’t have an opening for police reporters, but an item on Hill’s sparse resume stuck out: his weather forecasting hobby.
“They told me there was an opening for the weekend weather position and offered me an audition,” Hill laughs. “I thought how tough can it be to be a weatherman.” Hill put on his best suit in those lean days his only suit and drove to Richmond to audition.
He was hired on the spot.
Hill spent two years in Richmond before moving on to Detroit, doing weather on both WDIV-TV and WXYZ-TV.
With no formal education in meteorology, he began taking courses “whenever, wherever possible.”
Between on-the-job learning and specialty training, he passed the American Meteorology Society exam for meteorologists and received its Seal of Approval.
In 1984, Hill returned to Washington, D.C. He forecast the weather for 16 years at the local CBS affiliate, winning a local Emmy for excellence in broadcasting.
Today, at 56, Hill continues his education backed by “massive on-the-job training for almost 30 years.”
He has come full circle. “Now I’m asked by the National Weather Service to teach courses,” Hill says. “A mentor once told me, talent trumps paper all the time, and I’ve been lucky to have great mentors along the way.”
In 2000, Hill joined WJLA/ABC7. Today he is vice president, weather and chief meteorologist.
A Few Clouds but Sunny Overall
Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning.
Doug Hill loves his job, even when the weather is calm and there’s not much to report. But the best part, he says, is when “it’s all hitting the fan, and there is severe weather.”
Tornadoes, for example. They’re rare in Chesapeake Country, but when they happen, Hill says, “every bit of weather technology is in play, and everything I know about severe weather becomes critical. Not only do you have to understand what is happening and why, you have to be predictive of what may happen next. You have to know the viewing area, every bit of it. You have to keep abreast of all warnings and advisories and deliver all the information with credibility and with enough poise to keep people informed but not panicked.
“When the weather becomes dangerous, we have to rise to a new level. It is in that zone that all of your knowledge and talent are put to the test, with no margin for errors. For me that is the ultimate calling of this job.”
Hill’s business has weathered big changes in his 30 years on the job. “Bottom line is that it has become slicker and more scientific,” he explains. “Computer modeling, Doppler radar and high-resolution graphics have put us miles ahead of where we were.”
One of those innovations is the trick of the green screen. Hill isn’t seeing what you and I are. The map we see him standing in front of is electronically generated; all he sees is a blank, green screen. Off to the side, out of our view, is a TV monitor showing the composite image man and map that we see.
“I’m looking at the monitor out of the corner of my eye to make sure I’m pointing at Annapolis or Rose Haven or Deale and not Glen Burnie,” Hill explains.
“But with all the advances, the fact remains that if viewers do not trust the person using the technology, then it’s all a waste of time and money.”
Slight Chance of Storms
When a cow endeavors to scratch his ear, it means a rain shower is very near. When he thumps his ribs with an angry tail, look out for thunder, lightning and hail
Hill has won the trust he values. People believe in his ability to predict the weather. Some people even believe he can control it.
“I received a letter from a woman back in November,” Hill laughs. “She was planning her daughter’s wedding for a Saturday in June and wanted to have an outdoor reception. She expected me to tell her what the weather was going to be on that day. She was serious.”
Hill regularly receives angry responses from listeners when the weather doesn’t turn out as forecast.
Predicting the weather is no easy feat. According to the American Meteorological Society, “no verifiable skill exists or is likely to exist for forecasting day to day weather changes beyond two weeks. Claims to the contrary should be viewed with skepticism.”
Hill raises the bar a little. “If someone can consistently, accurately predict the weather 48 hours in advance, they’re very good,” Hill says. “If someone can consistently, accurately predict the weather 72 hours in advance, that’s scary.”
Local Weather Remains Favorable
There is little chance that meteorologists can solve the mysteries of weather until they gain an understanding of the mutual attraction of rain and weekends.
Hill is no stranger to Bay County, despite his Towson heritage.
“My father had a good friend who had a house on Solomons Island in the late 1950s, and we would often spend time there,” he recalls.
He treasures clear memories of those summer days on the Bay.
“I can remember going to the general store as a little guy seven or eight years old,” he recalls. “The store had slot machines, and I would beg my dad for a nickel. He’d set me up on the counter in those days they looked the other way so I could pull the handle. I remember winning $2.”
Back then, just the drive from Towson to Solomons was an adventure. The beltway hadn’t been built, and in the absence of highways, they followed country roads.
“There wasn’t much in Calvert County in those days,” Hill says. “Solomons has completely changed. Heck, Lusby was just a little town off the beaten track.”
Those fond childhood memories left such a good impression that today Hill and his family call Calvert County home.
“We have been here for five years,” Hill says. “We have a second home on the water in southern St. Mary’s County. We wanted to live closer to it, so we started looking in Charles and Calvert. After months of checking out communities, schools and amenities in both counties, we chose Calvert County. The Bay was a definite draw because we are water people and we love the Calvert and Anne Arundel Bayfront areas.”
Hill and his wife, Mary-Anne, have a lively household with a set of 10-year-old twins. Their family includes two sons from the couple’s previous marriages. Hill’s 24-year-old son is in the Air Force, stationed in California. Mary-Anne’s son, 21, lives at home and studies at Anne Arundel Community College.
The family also includes a number of pets, an Appaloosa named Jack, two Ocicats and a dog “of questionable lineage.”
The hardest part of the job Hill loves so much is the time spent away from home and family.
“It’s a grind, 7am to 11:30pm, five days a week,” Hill sighs. “If I didn’t love the weather so much, I wouldn’t do it. It’s hard to not be at home with my kids. I see them for breakfast and talk to them a lot on the phone.”
Weekends belong to his family. Even when he agrees to make an appearance on behalf of a charity, he says, “most everything I do is in Calvert or Southern Maryland, so I can take my kids with me.”
When Monday rolls around, Hill joins thousands of his fellow Bay residents on the long commute into the D.C. area for his job at WJLA in Arlington, 40 miles from his Calvert home.
So does he listen to WTOP for weather and traffic?
“I do listen to on the 8’s heading to work,” he says. “But I have to admit, I listen to satellite radio most of the time.”