Derek Van Dam is a meteorologist for CNN International, CNN domestic, and their digital platforms. Currently based in Atlanta, GA, Derek is an on-air anchor and broadcasts science-related weather reports on weekday and weekend editions of CNN Newsroom. He has reported live on every United States landfalling hurricane in 2017. Before joining CNN, Derek was chief meteorologist for eNCA news channel in South Africa. In this episode, Derek gives a glimpse into the life of a meteorologist and how he transformed his childhood passion for the weather into a successful career.
Derek says he works about 90 percent in the studio and 10 percent in the field, covering severe weather events. He is responsible for researching and producing science or weather-related topics and presenting them on the nightly news.
Hard Work Opens Doors
Anyone who knows Derek knows he loves the weather. Derek and Jeff actually went to high school together, and even then, Jeff remembers him wanting to be a meteorologist.
8:38 “I truly love science, anything related to weather, and I love telling that story. And I feel like I’m not alone in that!”
Derek shares he worked as a summer intern for a local meteorologist in high school, which kick-started his career. In college, he took initiative to learn and grow his skills:
- He studied meteorology, broadcast cinematic arts, journalism, and mathematics.
- He worked at a college-run television station to improve his skills in a low-stakes environment.
- He created subject matter that merged cinematic arts studies with meteorology, which is now a course at Central Michigan University.
- He secured his first job as a local weather anchor while still in college.
After graduation, he was promoted to full-time morning meteorologist. At the same time, Derek was involved with a nonprofit which worked with children and women impacted by HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa. And, unexpectedly, that nonprofit opened the door for Derek to take the next step in his career — and move to South Africa.
Becoming South Africa’s Most Beloved Meteorologist
Derek shares that eNCA, the first 24-hour television news channel in South Africa, hired him to create and head its weather department. He handled everything from hiring to budgeting and enjoyed free editorial range.
Derek says one of the job’s biggest challenges was learning how to manage people well.
17:55 “When you start hiring people and hiring a team, you need to make a conscious decision as a manager whether or not you’re going to be these peoples’ manager or going to be their friend. Or, you’re going to try to mold the two together.”
Derek explains drawing the line between manager and friend is helpful because it provides clarity if disciplinary action becomes necessary.
Follow Your Passion
After nearly eight years in South Africa — and becoming somewhat of a celebrity there — Derek accepted a position with CNN in Atlanta, GA and moved back to the United States. But he doesn’t let his popularity or air-time go to his head.
24:31 “One of my goals when I’m on television is to talk to the viewer, for instance, the same way that I’m sitting here talking to you. . . because to me, that’s how we communicate. . . The real me is [a] casual and laid back guy.”
As someone who turned his passion into a highly successful career, Derek encourages listeners to do the same.
36:10 “Take that left turn instead of a right turn in life. Do something that’s out of your comfort zone because it will pay dividends in the long-run.”
Derek exemplifies how maintaining a healthy work/life balance, communicating authentically, and hard work are essential to a successful, fulfilling career. By faithfully following his love of storytelling, adventure, and — of course — the weather, Derek has become one of the few who has managed to realize a childhood dream. His story provokes us to ask: What does passion look like in my life? Is it something I can use in the service of others?
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