Nick “Nor’Easter” Pittman: Forecasts without fear

“We’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.”

That’s from an old nursery rhyme that’s apropos for this week’s Portrait, Nick “Nor’Easter” Pittman, though in his case, Pittman very much likes the weather. Pittman has spent 13 years in the business of weather forecasting working on TV stations in South Jersey and now building a following online where he’s on a mission to change how consumers receive weather reporting. With over 100k followers and an average monthly reach of over 2 million on Facebook, Pittman runs a robust first-of-its kind website and a 24/7 streaming hyper-local weather channel which enables him to deliver the weather story in an engaging way, educate countless people about the complexities of weather, and put the messages of local business’ in front of hundreds of thousands of loyal viewers a week. Like Randy Rainbow, he’s created an entire broadcast studio in his home. With his husband Brandon, they’ve started a production company and are on a quest to make the weather something we can all understand without scaring us to death! 

I hear your life journey started out with some rough weather. Do you mind sharing some of it?

Not at all, I grew up in Brigantine, NJ. I was given away as a toddler so my grandmother took me in and raised me. She taught me everything I needed to know. She basically filled that mother role for me. Unfortunately, when I was 10 or 11 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I had to grow up fast. Because I was afraid that the state might come in and take me away, I hid what was going on. I learned to cook and clean, pay the bills and balance a checkbook. I was a man by the time I was 12 years old. But I wouldn’t go back and change the circumstance one bit because it turned me into who I am today. 

Were your parents involved at all?

I didn’t have a relationship with my parents when I was with my grandmother, but there came a time when her diagnosis got worse and I had to move in with them. I was sleeping on the floor of their very small apartment and it was horrible, my mother was a prescription drug user and it was very taxing. It was during my first years of high school and there was mental abuse, but fortunately I was able to focus my time and attention on school and the TV program that we had at Hammonton High. I’d get out of the house at 6am and stay at school as late as I could. It allowed me to concentrate on something that would be conducive to my development and future career. When I go to schools now, I always tell my story to show kids that no matter what you go through in life, you can make it out on the other side as long as you stay positive, work hard, surround yourself with good people, and believe in yourself.

What was it about weather that fascinated you?

It started out as fear; I was terrified of thunderstorms. I would hide under the bed or beg my grandmother to take me to the police department or the mall, someplace that felt safe. It got to the point that I wanted to face that fear and learn what made mother nature tick. I started reading books on meteorology and immersed myself in that world. Most normal kids watch cartoons on the weekend, well not me, I was watching the weather channel. All of my friends thought I was crazy! But I developed an intense passion for all things weather related.

It’s interesting that your career basically came out of a fear. 

Yes, and one of the things that I love to do is to educate people, to make them understand the why behind the what. And that’s universal: when we understand why something happens, it’s a little less scary. 

Do you think that came from being a kid who dealt with very grown up things and rather than shrink from them, learned to overcome them? 

I think that’s a good way to put it. I’ve always been one to take all the negativity and the trials and tribulations that life gives us and bottled them up to use as a fuel for success. 

And that you’ve done. 

Yes, I’m very lucky in that I discovered my passion so early. We had a TV station at the elementary/middle school that I went to. Comcast built it for the school and I would do the morning announcements every day. When I was 11 I beat out about a thousand kids and won Kathy Orr’s CBS 3 “Kidcaster” competition. I got to go into Philly and do the weather live and at that moment I knew exactly what I wanted to be – a broadcast weatherman. 

What was the worst moment that you had to overcome?

I had a younger brother and he died of a drug overdose. There was a point where I was so beaten down, I hate to say it, but I had the thought that maybe the world would be better off without me, because that’s how I felt at home. It was constant. But I looked at my life and thought, I could go down that same path that my brother did based on our circumstances, or I could try to rise above them. I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about what was happening at home but I had two teachers, Mr. Josey and Mr. Joseph who were my saviors. These were two people who took me under their wing and were like father figures to me. When I was 17 they encouraged me to put together a demo video and they put it out there. I thought they were crazy, who was going to bother with a 17 year old, but two weeks later I was hired by NBC40 in Atlantic City! If it wasn’t for their help and intervention I might not be where I am, doing what I do today. 

Did they know what was going on at home?

I did eventually open up to them, but to most people, including my friends, I pretended that everything was lollipops and unicorns. I was very good at putting up a facade. I wanted to portray that happy family with the white picket fence that Hollywood sells us. But they did know and I’ll never forget, during my last year, I had no money for the senior trip. Mr. Joseph asked me about it and when I said that I couldn’t afford to go, he came in the next day with a $2,000 check and paid for the trip so I could go. I asked him how I could pay him back and he said, “Come work for me.” He had a Little League photography company, so I trained for four hours a week one weekend and then he said, “Okay, we are all caught up. Now you will work for me and get paid for it.” It was the kindest act ever done for me. He’s the reason that to this day, I always look for ways to pay it forward. I take a lot of people under my wing and do a lot of things, including a turkey drive, because someone was once nice to me and I know how much it means. 

Nice. So let’s talk weather, you specialize in hyper focused weather, why is that important?

There’s an impression that weather people are folks who get it wrong half the time but still get paid, that’s not accurate. I think that’s mostly from people looking at apps which are based on data with no humans involved. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s happening when you’re broadly talking about a regional area, or doing a national forecast. I grew up here, I know this area. We live in one of the most diverse regions of the country from a meteorological standpoint, and because of that, our weather can change on a dime. 

When you have somebody who knows the area and understands microclimates, they can be much more accurate. I can say, ‘hey, this circulation is at the corner of Maple and Walnut, right by the Dunkin’ Donuts. I’ve been doing this professionally for 13 years. People wake up with me and go to bed with me at night. They know they can trust what I have to say. I can build a relationship where people feel comfortable talking to me and asking questions. Often I get people who may live in Philly or the tri-state area who have houses at the shore, so when there is a weather event, they can check with me to see what’s happening here. 

Yes, I noticed that you really communicate with people individually on your facebook page. That’s not something you’re able to do with a network station. I also noticed that you often infuse a sense of humor to make it entertaining for your viewers. 

I am totally different from anybody that you’ll see on traditional media. Of course during a severe weather situation you have to be serious, but 9 times out of 10 that’s not the case. I always try to let my sense of humor dictate where we go. You gotta have fun. I don’t subscribe to that doom and gloom style of reporting the weather. I hate to see when someone puts up a thunderstorm icon and scare half the people away from the shore when in reality, a thunderstorm might just mean that an hour of your day gets a little wet but otherwise it’s sunny with a few clouds. I know that the local businesses appreciate the care I put into not scaring people away in an attempt to be dramatic. I’ll tell people, “Hey, it might rain a little but still come down, even if it does, there are plenty of things to do here.” 

I seem to remember that in France, one of the business coalitions sued the stations because they were driving business away with the forecasts. 

Yeah, it can get ridiculous, you’ll see “Team Coverage!” in the winter for a few inches of snow. A blizzard sure, but there’s no need to get people all worked up over normal weather situations. It’s not good to get people in a panic, just drive carefully and use common sense. 

Well, speaking of common sense, or lack of, it always cracks me up when they stick weather people out in the middle of a storm. What’s the worst situation that you’ve been in?

I love that stuff! It’s energizing to me, but 3 years ago we had a pretty good blizzard and we had the truck driving through the streets of AC with 18 inches of snow and nothing was plowed, so we were getting stuck everywhere. I did a live report from the boardwalk and the wind was so cold I could barely remember what I was trying to say! As I was being pelted with snow I thought to myself, I am crazy! But the next storm, I was right back out there. [Laughing] If it were up to me, I’d be reporting in the middle of a category 5 hurricane, but my husband won’t let me! 

Are you a thrill seeker in any other areas?

Yeah, a few years ago I got to go up in an F-16 during the solar eclipse. It was incredible, we were going like, 1500 miles an hour and pulled 8G, it was wild. I threw up 3 times, but I would totally do it again in a minute! I scaled down the side of the Sheraton Hotel in Atlantic City, and I’m trying to figure out how to do a forecast while skydiving. I have no fear… except for spiders, I don’t do bugs. 

What is your coming out story?

I grew up in a very conservative area and my grandmother was pretty conservative. I always felt like something was wrong because I had feelings for guys. I knew at a very young age, even watching the Disney channel as a kid, I remember not having any attraction to the girls, but having feelings about the guys. 

When will my prince come? 

[Laughing] Exactly! So in high school, I really fought the urge, I started going to a born again Christian church thinking it would help. I dated girls but always had to find a way to get out of it because I couldn’t tell the truth. Later I was dating Brandon in secret and we were both working at Shoprite. I was the manager and decided to tell one of my employees who was a lesbian. Once I told her it was like a million pounds were lifted off me and I was like, you know what? I’m going to tell the world. I posted it on Facebook and the response was tremendous, and as I said, that area is pretty conservative, it skews red, but I didn’t have a single issue. It was overwhelmingly positive, and I’m so thankful for that. 

How did you and Brandon meet?

It was on a dating app, and then I hired him to work with me. I later got an offer to go full time into news and he came with me. We’ve been together for 8 years, married for 3. The former mayor of Atlantic City married us on the beach and it was beautiful! 

Let’s do a few random questions, what food can you do without? 

I’m an extremely picky eater. I don’t like most foods. The only cheese I’ll eat is Mozzarella. I’ve never had sour cream. My favorite fruit is watermelon. 

What’s a conversation piece in your house?

We love to travel and we always bring back ornaments for our Christmas tree. We’re getting ready to put it up soon and we always have friends ask about where we went and any stories from the trips. 

Last time you built a snowman?

Last year! I’m 30 years old, but I’m a big kid. 

Finally, what’s your craziest on screen moment? 

I broadcast completely out of my house. I start at my desk and then I push a button and a camera comes up that allows me time to get to the green screen without anyone seeing what I’m doing behind the scenes. One day, something wasn’t working right and I thought the wrong camera was live so I did an army crawl across the floor so that no one would see me, not realizing that the camera that was on was the one at the back of the set, so anyone watching saw me crawling across the room like Rambo. When I was at TV40, the sports anchor once threw a football at me and I wasn’t paying attention so it hit me in the head during the 7 day forecast! But it’s just a part of live broadcasting and all in good fun.

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