Editor's Note: Article & photos compliments of www.wilsonlivingmagazine.com
Lisa Patton reminisces about one of her first weather forecasts. Right after being hired by a Knoxville TV station, she predicted “wet” rain.
“It was a big deal. My family was so excited. They would come to Knoxville for UT football games, and one weekend we had rain. I think it had already been cold enough for some snow, which we sometimes described as ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ snow. There was no snow in forecast, but all my family was there, and I called it ‘wet’ rain. They laughed and laughed,” said Patton, cracking up over her recollection.
But the Mt. Juliet native is nothing but serious business when she hits the air at 4, 4:30, 5, 6 and 10 p.m. weekdays on WKRNChannel 2 where she has been weather casting for the past 18 years.
Breaking away from the busyness of the News 2 Storm Center, multiple sides to Patton’s personality come streaming out. She’s a devoted mother who home schools her three children with her husband of 19 years, and family comes fi rst. She loves the outdoors, especially Center Hill Lake, and is a sports buff. Sewing and crafts also attract her time and attention. And she’s a huge fan of country music and once was host of a country music radio show.
Her early years were nurtured in a rural environment as the now bustling sprawl of Mt. Juliet was but a country community in the 1960s and ‘70s, and as a schoolgirl she worked hard on her parents’ and grandparents’ farms.
“My dad’s family is from the Watertown area, and my grandparents used to live on Patton Hollow Road for years, and my mother’s family is from the Statesville area. We are definitely Wilson Countians,” Patton, 48, said about her dad and mom’s roots in the southeastern part of the county.
“I spent lot of time there, not just visiting but working. I grew up part of a farming family. I did a lot of working, cutting, raking and baling hay. My father grew tobacco, and I would pull slips out of the beds and plant them. I was one of the fastest planters of tobacco and tomato slips. I kind of grew up with my feet in the dirt,” says Patton, who at the age of 12 could handle a tractor like Danica Patrick handles a racecar.
Patton was born in Coos Bay, Ore., just as her father was coming out of the Air Force. Settling in Mt. Juliet, he went to work for Western Electric and AT&T. Now retired, Bill Patton had his Nashville office at the corner of Polk and Fessler, about a block and a half from where Lisa calls the shots on the weather today at Channel 2.
raising Lisa, the oldest, and her sister Lora and brother Lyle. Later, she served as secretary for the city of Mt. Juliet for 25 years before retiring five years ago.
A graduate of Mt. Juliet High School, Patton’s extra-curricular activities as a Golden Bear included playing on the volleyball team (“I was terrible,” she confesses), membership in the French and Beta Clubs and helping the class of 1979 build their homecoming floats in her garage. After high school, it was off to Knoxville in pursuit of a degree in broadcasting. Patton had no idea she would soon be a student of sunny days and stormy nights, but her tutelage would not be in a classroom.
“I didn’t really decide what I wanted to be. It decided on me,” she says. “I got a broadcasting degree. I really thought my interest would be in sports. I watched baseball and football a lot with my dad. Then in college I worked several years for a radio station and got some valuable experience.
“Just as I was graduating, one of the TV stations in Knoxville, WTVK, called me and told me, ‘We have this weekend weather spot and would like for you to come audition for it.’ Getting into the broadcasting industry is really hard. I knew that I better take whatever came available. I told them, ‘I don’t know anything about weather.’ They said, ‘OK, we’ll teach you.’ I began learning weather on the job. Back then it was not uncommon to just rip and read,” said Patton referring to the practice of reading the local forecast as it came off the wires from the NationalWeather Service.
“Since I’ve been doing it 25 years, I have learned to forecast. I’m not a schooled meteorologist but a self and colleague taught. I’ve learned from people like Davis Nolan. He’s the best colleague in the world and has shared so much information with me. I have learned it on the job and been doing my own forecasting for many years. It’s been a fun career. Weather is never boring. Every day is a little bit different,” said Patton. Matthew Zelkind, news director at WKRN from 1995 to 2004 and now back in that role since May 2007, has known Pattonfor 14 years and is a big believer in her talents.
“I’m the one who put her on weeknights. I thought she was a phenomenal communicator. It wasn’t a hard decision,” Zelkind said. “What you see is what you get. Lisa first and foremost is a remarkable person. Family and community are first with her. She has a calm and easygoing way about her, and I think that shows on television.”
Patton’s stint in radio from 1982 to 1984 at Knoxville stations WNOX and WIVK included a variety of chores, and this gave her a head’s up on TV.
“I did disc jockey work, traffic reports flying in a plane over Knoxville and live broadcasts from car dealerships,” she said. “I loved country music and have a long history in country music. We had a Saturday night show called the Tennessee Barn Dance, like The Grand Ole Opry. For a time I emceed that show. It was one of the coolest parts of my career, although I was very young and green and didn’t know what I was doing.
“It seemed to be a perfect fit, all that ad-libbing on radio. You don’t have as script for weather, so radio was the best training ever for what I ended up doing for my career. It really prepared me well.”
After working for six years in Knoxville radio and TV, Patton knew it was time to move to a newer and bigger market and landed a four-year gig at WTVD in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., as a weekend weather anchor and news reporter three days a week.
Patton’s mother was a stay-at-home mom,“I got immersed in that pretty quickly and covered everything from murders to protests to you name it. I did a little bit of news anchoring, but weather is really my niche. That’s where I am most comfortable.”
While working in Raleigh-Durham, Patton met her husband-to-be, Eric, a director at the TV station. After a three-year courtship, theywed and set their sights on a move to Middle Tennessee.
“Nashville is a great TV market and there are not many turnovers. Every time I came home, I would bring my tape and knock on all three station’s doors, and one day (in July of 1991) I got call from Bill Lord (then news director at WKRN), and he said, ‘I’ve got a place for you,’ and I said, ‘OK, I’m ready.’”
Patton landed her dream job, got to be back with family to boot, and has since given birth to three children and has been raising them on the same road that she grew up on.
“One of my challenges in raising three kids is trying to be everywhere at once. Part of my good fortune is that I have worked for Matthew Zelkind for many years, and he knows how important family is to me, and he appreciates that I want to be a mommy first. That’s my most important position,” Patton said.
“I like what I do, so my husband has been a stay-at-home dad all these years. We have made some adjustments. We really think it important that one of us be there. We home school and have always home educated. Because I work nights I would not have been able to see them but on weekends. They would be up and going to school before I would get up. We made that decision, and it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We’ve spent so much time together. Whoever they turn out to be, we are 100% responsible, but they are pretty good kids, so I think they will turn out to be OK,” said the mother of Madeline, 16, Brenna, 13, and Eli, 10.
“I have a pretty full day at home before I come to work Because I work nights, I say we live in Tennessee but live on California time. We sleep until nine. Even my kids stay up late. They kind of live on my schedule. We have a home school coop that meets on Mondays. On other days, we get up and have breakfast, but we don’t have a specific routine. Sometimes we do math in our pajamas or do history. Every day is different but our point is life-long learning,” Patton says.
As a weather forecaster, she finds her vocation to be one of life-long learning as well, especially in the use of new technology. “I’ve watched the world of computers change the way we deliver weather in the past 15 years, but I still have to plug in current temperatures at the top of the hour. It’s not all automatic, but there are many more automatic features. The most important piece of equipment I have is Storm tracker,” said Patton, who speaks with authority and energy that commands attention during her segments.
Her continual goal is to get the forecast right while relating it to what people are doing, and she feels the pressure when bad weather threatens the lives and property of her viewers.
“We have a lot of dangerous weather here and that is a great responsibility. . . . I may seem calm on outside, but when I can see a big rotating storm, there is fear there. You know people could be losing everything or they may be in harm’s way. I am fearful for them. It was terrifying when I knew the tornado of 1998 came within a mile or so of my family,” said Patton.
“I feel an urgent need to give as much information as possible. I talk fast. We cover 50 counties with each as important as the other. I have to be thinking fast and moving fast. There is no time for delay. When you have super cells that produce massive tornados, you might have four or five on radar at the same time in different areas.
“Back in ’98 when East Nashville was hit so hard right as school let out and parents were still at work, we had to tell people, ‘This is when it’s gonna get there and what you need to do.’ Later, so many parents said, ‘My kids did exactly what you said.’ It is so important to keep giving the basic information to stay safe,” says Patton, who has worked a stretch of bad weather for six consecutivehours.
As for the perks to her job, she said, “I like the fact that it is different every day. Weather is always changing and it is a challenge, not a perfect science. The other neat thing is I get to meet a lot of people. Everywhere I go, people are very willing to talk with me and introducethemselves and that’s good. Everybody wants to talk about the weather.
“So you’re having people recognize you and want to chat, and you have a whole lot of friends, but on the flip side you’re having everybody recognize you when you have a ball cap on while going through Kroger. ‘Oh, you’re that lady who keeps me in the closet when it’s stormy.’ My voice gives me away,” says Wilson County’s most weather-wise woman.