The Sky's the Limit for Paul Douglas

Longtime meteorologist wears many hats to get his message across.

After all these years of forecasting the good, the bad and the ugly in Minnesota, Paul Douglas is still thunderstruck by the weather. “It’s different every day,” says the Twin Cities meteorologist and media personality. “No two days, no two storms are identical. Every day is a new creation. And that applies to the weather, as well. You can’t just say, ‘this looks identical to 1958,’ and ‘here’s what happened in 1958.’ It doesn’t work that way."

A decade after giving his last forecast on WCCO-TV, Douglas is busier than ever. Weather remains a force in his life, branching out in a labyrinth of public and business endeavors.

Douglas, who turns 60 in June, is a deft entrepreneur, the co-founder of two current weather-related businesses based in Eden Prairie. Weather takes center stage in three books authored by Douglas, as well as a daily newspaper column and blog he writes. He also launched the national weather channel, WeatherNation TV, in 2011.

And, since August, he has hosted an afternoon talk show on WCCO AM-830 with Jordana Green—though the weather is just one of the topics. (Douglas jokes that he wishes he could talk about the weather for three hours, but even he wouldn’t listen to that.) “I’m still passionate about the weather,” says Douglas, who lives in Excelsior with his wife, Laurie. “About a third of America’s GDP (gross domestic product) is dependent on the weather. It does have a big effect on many businesses. Energy, transportation, retail, what people buy and when is all flavored by the weather.”

For Douglas, his fascination with weather began as a boy when a tropical storm flooded his Lancaster, Pa., home in 1972. A man drowned in the stream behind his house. “Something put the fear of God into most meteorologists as kids—whether it’s a tornado, a blizzard, a flood, a hurricane,” he says. “And, for me, that somehow morphed into a career.”

Douglas tells kids the secret to life is finding what you love and turning it into a way to pay the bills. “If you can get people to pay you to play, that’s what you shoot for,” he says. “There are days when it’s work, of course. But, I’m still in awe of Mother Nature, and she’s putting on increasingly wild displays in Minnesota.”

Climate change
For years, Douglas has been an outspoken proponent of climate change science—offering his perspective as both a meteorologist and a self-described Evangelical Christian and moderate Republican.

“I can’t say I celebrate Earth Day, but I certainly acknowledge that we have an obligation as Christians to pay attention and see the world as it is, not as we think it should be,” he says.

Douglas knows there is much skepticism among Evangelicals and conservatives on climate change. He at one time was skeptical, too. But, the weather patterns he noticed in the late 1990s and early 2000s swayed him. “A warmer atmosphere holds more water like a sponge sucking up more moisture,” he says. “And when the water comes down, it’s coming down harder and faster and longer. And it isn’t a climate model. It’s based on Doppler [Radar], and it’s based on water in your rain gauge. The rain is falling harder in Minnesota.”

Douglas co-wrote in 2016 the book, Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment with the Rev. Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN). The book’s goal is to reach out to conservatives with “climate change messaging that resonates,” he says. “We shook our heads and wondered why more conservatives, why more Evangelicals, aren't coming to grips with climate change?” says Douglas, who is on the EEN board of directors. “There has to be a way to communicate the science but also go beyond science and talk about the spiritual [aspect] and why people of all faiths, including Christians, should pay attention.”

For those who are skeptical, he says acknowledging the scientific data doesn’t make you liberal, it makes you literate. “It’s already getting harder with a straight face to say, ‘There’s no such thing as climate change,’” he says. “Really? We can debate how much of it is natural versus manmade, but you have to be living in a total state of denial to say nothing is happening. How much evidence is enough?”

Douglas understands why conservatives are hesitant. They fear, he says, climate change is going to hurt the economy. But addressing and ultimately solving it will create technologies using solar, wind and other sources “we can only dream of today,” he stresses. “What will save us, at the end of the day, is our frugality,” he says. “I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like to save money. And clean energy costs are falling to the point where within a couple of years, it will truly be a no-brainer.”

Entrepreneur
“Stubborn curiosity” coupled with an “internal restlessness to find a better way” sparks his entrepreneurial spirit, Douglas says. Douglas has started five weather technology companies over the years. He sold his forecasting company, Digital Cyclone, to Garmin for $45 million in 2007. But, he says, they were on “Plan K” before Digital Cyclone became successful. “There’s a fine line between madness and genius, and I’m no genius,” he says. “Many of us have good ideas. What separates out the people who are successful is a sense of curiosity and the tenacity and grit to just stick with it, to not give up.”

His two current businesses, Praedictix and AerisWeather, employ about 30 people in joint offices off City West Parkway in Eden Prairie. He is founder and president of Praedictix and co-founder and chief meteorologist of AerisWeather. With its team of meteorologists and automated studios, Praedictix does everything an app can’t do, Douglas says. It warns companies that have multiple facilities of impending severe weather, helps with weather-related litigation and provides video weather updates for TV stations, smartphone apps and even the digital displays on gas station pumps. “Anywhere a meteorologist can add value to a product through interpretation, providing context, perspective,” he says.

AerisWeather focuses on providing a steady, reliable supply of weather data and graphics to businesses. Trucking companies use its real-time data, so drivers can avoid icy and snowy roads, Douglas says. Even Netflix has used it. “They have analytics that shows if the weather is a certain way, you might be more interested in a certain kind of show,” he says.

Douglas says AerisWeather is working to create better data. “If you put junk into the weather models, you’re going to get junk out,” he says. “People ask why the seven-day forecast is as bad as it is. It’s because we’re still putting junk into the weather models. To be able to predict the weather, you have to be able to know what’s happening right now. There’s an opportunity to refine that snapshot locally."

Douglas doesn’t do as much on-camera as he once did. “If there’s a big storm, a hurricane, sometimes I get involved,” he says. Though he’s no longer on-air on WeatherNation TV, he still owns a minority stake, and AerisWeather provides data to power many of the channel’s graphics.

Instead, he does more what he calls forensic meteorology, using written and video reports. That involves sifting through Doppler Radar and other data to prove to reluctant insurance companies that a storm did indeed damage a house or business. “When you see a video, and you’re spinning around a thunderstorm in 3D, and you’re slicing open a thunderstorm, and here's the hail and here’s the hail reaching the ground, it adds another dimension to the report,” he says.

In his many roles of reporting the weather, Douglas says the challenge is not only getting the forecast right but communicating it in a way that doesn’t bore audiences. Candy-coated meteorology, he calls it. “How do you make weather relevant?” he says. “We all consume weather differently. What might be important to me might not be important to you. But to give people an appreciation for weather, so as they’re getting the forecast, they’re also maybe learning something about the weather. Hell, these days, it’s one of the few things we can talk about in polite company without screaming at each other.”