It was just another sunny Sunday afternoon in the Washington, D.C. area on the day that Guy Brown‘s life and future changed.
Guy was nine years old that Sunday in 2002, and was just getting ready to go with his friends out to the park where they always played football on Sundays. He had been watching cartoons earlier that morning when he saw a ticker come across the bottom of the screen giving a tornado watch for his county. It was very rare — one of the only times in history, in fact, that a tornado watch like that had come across any screen in the DC area.
Being nine years old, Brown looked out the window, figured it was sunny and calm and he and his friends should go hang out anyways.
“I was just like, ‘no way is this tornado coming, it’s sunny out, I am going to the park,’” Brown told Madison365. “I remember we went to the park and played football and we came home and it started to hail and we went inside.”
By now the tornado watch now definitely a warning. Guy’s family still had the television turned on. It was the first time that he can remember experiencing live news of an event he was directly involved in.
The tornado did hit his town. It hit hard. The tornado was an EF4, one of the most powerful it could be. The type of tornado you rarely see in urban and suburban areas like Washington D.C. but rather on the plains of Oklahoma or Kansas.
“This was the first time I actually followed TV news and experienced something,” Brown said. “There wasn’t damage to my house but it did strike my hometown and there was a lot of damage. It was very rare to get tornadoes in the DC area. That storm was legendary.”
Brown says that to this day older meteorologists he talks to from the D.C. area remember that storm and ask him what it was like to have experienced it.
Just for some context, an EF4 tornado is classified as being able to cause devastating damage and includes winds of 166-200 miles per hour. It has been 22 years since an EF4 level tornado hit Wisconsin. In 1996, an EF4 hit Fond Du Lac County killing 12 people.
“Even in Wisconsin you don’t see EF4’s,” Brown explained. “Wisconsin definitely can get EF4 tornadoes, but it’s not common. Those are big tornadoes. When I was interviewing for the job here, I had that story on my website and one of the meteorologists reached out to me because she had been on duty in DC when that happened and she was like ‘oh wow, you remember that?’”
Today, Brown works as an on-air meteorologist for WKOW 27 here in Madison after moving here from Wyoming in March. And, while he hasn’t yet had the chance to forecast any tornadoes for the Dane County area, he was seen his share of strange weather around Madison.
“The night I first flew out here was just a disaster,” he said. “I was very excited. But we flew right into a snow storm. We circled over the Dane County airport for an hour because the runway was full of snow.”
But snow was one of the reasons Brown wanted to come to Madison. He has enjoyed the nuances of the unique spring of 2018 around Madison in terms of weather.
Brown graduated from Towson University and began his career at ABC7 WJLA-TV in Washington DC. He still flies back there at every opportunity to see family and watch his professional mentors in action.
“I gotta give it up to my mentors at WJLA in DC,” Brown said. “They really helped me get on my feet and they are just always there. I fly back to D.C. just to sit down and watch the pros do it. And I watch what they’re doing and bring that back to my station.”
After learning in D.C., Brown moved out to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he cut his teeth in one of the wildest weather areas in the United States. Brown describes Cheyenne as being relaxed and laid back, with little traffic, independent people, a slow pace and lots of cattle. And massive weather issues!
“They get some awesome weather in Wyoming,” Brown says laughing. “It really would go from 80 degrees one day to snowing (the next). I’m not exaggerating.”
80 degrees to snowing? Sounds like a weatherman fish tale. But Brown insists.
“I would leave my house to grocery shop and it would be sunny and warm. I can tell you I would go through that store in about 15 minutes, come home, unpack the groceries, and by that time it’d be 2 inches of snow,” he said. “One time I was forecasting rain and this cold front came through. It was about 60 degrees but it came through so fast it was snowing in minutes. I learned a lot there forecasting in Wyoming. Even though I am from D.C and was away from family and friends, I can really appreciate a place like Wyoming. The weather there was so intriguing.”
But like a lot of careers, in weather you start out small in a little area and work your way to the top. Even though Brown came to appreciate Cheyenne, he never stopped wanting to work his way back to a big city, back to D.C.
So when his contract came up he declined to renew it in Cheyenne and began looking elsewhere. That’s when WKOW in Madison called him. They had seen his work on Youtube and Brown said he was excited because Madison seemed one step closer to being in a major market.
Since March, Brown has been forecasting on Wake Up Wisconsin from Wednesdays to Sundays. Brown loves the wild weather that Madison has experienced this spring and also has fallen in love with the youthful vibrancy of the city.
“I’m not bashing Wyoming in any way, but Madison is a place for a younger person like me,” he said. “It’s like I’m going out and seeing people riding bikes and skateboarding and there’s just so much life out here. This place has so much to offer. It just seems like there’s a lot to do and I wish I already knew all the good spots. I just tried my first brat a week ago!”
Brown is an avid painter who has had paintings receive attention everywhere from California to Ireland, and he is looking for a studio in Madison he could partner with to do more painting and hopes to become connected with the art scene.
The biggest challenge for Brown in Madison has been being away from his family, who still lives in DC, and his girlfriend, a reporter in Virginia. Coupled with the fact that the post office broke his computer during his move and his odd work hours, social life has been somewhat of a challenge.
But soon enough business will pick up for Guy Brown, whether he knows it or not. Wisconsin weather in June is a rollercoaster.
There might even be a tornado.
“Ever since that tornado in D.C, I have studied weather. It makes me feel safe,” Brown says. “And that’s my goal. To get on the air and make people feel safe.”