Jeff Castle, Meteorologist
By TONY TAGLAVORE
Everyone has a story.
Each week, the Shreveport-Bossier Journal’s Tony Taglavore takes to lunch a local person — someone
well-known, influential, or successful — and asks, “What’s Your Story?”
It wasn’t long after we sat down that I was surprised by something Jeff Castle said.
“I was very shy growing up. I’m still, to a big degree, kind of an introvert.”
Say again? A shy introvert, who makes his living talking to thousands of people several times each weekday?
“Doing what I do, being a Chief Meteorologist on TV, surprised a lot of people. Classmates, family members — I don’t think they ever thought I was going to break out of my shell and would be capable of doing what I’m doing.”
What Jeff is doing — and has been doing for nine years — is keeping KSLA-TV viewers weather aware. He came from the CBS affiliate’s sister station in Huntsville, Alabama. There, for 12 years, Jeff was the morning meteorologist. Before that, he worked in Dayton, Ohio, Amarillo, Texas, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
“I’ve surprised myself about what I’ve been able to do in my career, and the longevity I’ve had. At this point in time, I can’t imagine doing anything else as a meteorologist other than being on television.
Jeff—who looks much younger than his age (53) thanks to good genes and a good skin care regimen — told me his story over tacos at Ki Mexico. He had been there once before but wanted to visit again.
Since Jeff’s a weather guy, I thought it appropriate we sit outside. Thankfully, the restaurant’s patio is well-covered from the sun and has several (loud) fans. We shared (although I ate more) Guacamole and chips. Jeff ordered two Poblano’s, while I had one Poblano and one Cochinita.
Springfield, Ohio, is where Jeff grew up as an only child. “I wasn’t the popular kid. I wasn’t athletic. I was kind of the little nerdy guy. I was in the band. I read and collected comic books. In fact, I still do.” (More on that later.)
It’s interesting that for someone who ended up getting two degrees at two different universities, Jeff’s interest in weather began out of a desire not to go to school.
“Growing up in Ohio, it snows there. I would watch the local news, snow would be in the forecast, and I would be excited thinking school was going to get canceled. There would be times when I would wake up in the morning, look out the window, and there would be little-to-no snow. That brought up my first question: ‘Why can’t those weathermen on TV get the forecast right?’”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him many of us have that same question.
A high school Earth Science class — a portion of which was devoted to weather — is what led Jeff to be a meteorologist. He chose to leave the comforts of home, and head south to the University of Oklahoma, which offered — and still offers — one of the country’s most respected meteorology degrees.
“My parents were always very supportive of me. Going away to college from Ohio to Oklahoma was more difficult for my mother than my father, but my parents always encouraged me to do my own thing.”
With diploma in hand, Jeff hit the road again. This time, to the Pacific Northwest and the University of Washington, where he earned his master’s degree in Atmospheric Science. But after thinking all along he wanted to work for the National Weather Service, Jeff realized that doing research wasn’t for him.
So now what?
“Honestly, I just kind of fell into the TV business.”
Jeff landed at a station in Dayton — some 30 miles from his hometown — doing part-time, weekend weather. It was a pretty big market for his first job.
Jeff lasted six months.
“It was a little bit of a gut punch. At the time, and looking back, I didn’t get a lot of support. It was a little difficult to understand.”
It would be 10 months and several unemployment checks later before Jeff got a second chance.
“In Amarillo, it was a much better fit for me…I think there was less pressure, being that Amarillo was a much smaller market. It was kind of a learning market. It was a very good thing for me to go to Amarillo.”
Jeff paid his dues and two years later, landed his dream job in Oklahoma City.
“I fell in love with (the state of) Oklahoma while going to school. Being that OKC was in the same market as the University of Oklahoma, it was always, ‘That’s the market I want to get to.’ I got to work in arguably the most significant severe weather TV market in the country.”
Jeff was the fourth person on a four-person weather team. So, when the station reduced the size of its staff, Jeff was the first to leave.
But four years of experience in OKC was enough to land the morning meteorologist job in Huntsville.
It was there that Jeff was on the front line of what he calls “one of the defining weather events of my career.”
April 27th, 2011.
“In our market that day we had around 40 tornadoes. Three of those were the strongest rating — an EF-5.”
More than 12 years later, Jeff gets emotional.
“In our coverage area alone, we had more than 100 people die.”
And more than 12 years later, Jeff still wonders if he did enough during his 16 straight hours on air.
“Did we get the message out? Did we convey enough of a sense of urgency for people to understand just how serious of a situation this was?…Did I spend ample time on every storm, or did we maybe focus on the one storm where we were positive there was a tornado on the ground doing damage, but as a result, didn’t focus as much on this storm which also produced a tornado that did damage?”
Jeff was in Huntsville for more than a decade — successful, but not satisfied.
“I always had the dream of being a Chief (Meteorologist). My Chief there wasn’t going to leave — he’s still there — so I knew that wasn’t going to be an option. I had already reached the peak of what I was going to do in Huntsville. There wasn’t going to be an opportunity for me to move up to a higher position.”
So, when opportunity knocked, Jeff and his husband (Benjamin) moved to Shreveport-Bossier. They like it here. So much so that last year, Jeff signed a three-year contract extension.
“Everyone here is super-friendly, which is typical of most southern places. I’m just very comfortable in what I’ve built here career-wise. I often tell younger people who come to work for me that there’s something to be said for staying somewhere awhile. I think it benefits you in the long run. You get to be well-known and trusted. There’s something to be said for that.”
The next time you hear Jeff talking about a serious weather threat, just know he is not always a serious person.
“I have more than 21,000 comic books. There’s a whole room in the house devoted to them…I’ve got them all filed in alphabetical and numerical order.”
So, in more ways than one, Jeff is having the last laugh.
Do you know someone who has a story to tell? Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com