While most individuals are deep in their slumber at 2 a.m., Shanna Mendiola’s day is already beginning.
By 2:30 a.m., like clockwork, she arrives at NBC4 Southern California, where she has been the meteorologist for the weekday morning newscast, “Today in LA,” since March.
And for the next five hours, it’s nonstop as she prepares then goes on air from 4:30 to 7 a.m.
“It’s the adrenaline because I really love what I do,” Mendiola remarked in a recent interview with the Asian Journal, also joking about the power of coffee to keep her energized. “I think that helps me get through the show.”
Growing up, the Emmy Award-winning meteorologist recalls watching Al Roker on the “Today” show daily during her social studies class. Little did she know that she would later pursue meteorology as well — and even fill in for Roker during the 2016 Christmas season.
“I watched him every day as a kid. I got to work for him. How exciting is that? I feel very, very blessed to have done it, and to be the first Asian American to have done it as well — that’s history,” she remarked.
Similar to many Filipino Americans, her mother pushed her toward a career in nursing, as “she thought that was a really good way…to make a living one day and to follow in her footsteps.”
“It really wasn’t something I wanted to do because I knew that I didn’t like blood and I didn’t like needles, but I really did like science,” Mendiola added.
When she was 12, her mother brought her to a ‘Take Your Daughter to Work Day’ to further convince her into becoming a nurse. The keynote speaker, who was a news anchor, showed a video of the newsroom that she worked in and the various positions available, including a meteorologist.
“Back in the day, I really didn’t think about it but I looked at my mom and said, ‘Is that something I can do?’ She was like, ‘Well, I’d really want you to be a nurse, but if it’s something you want to do, then it’s science. I think you could be OK,’” Mendiola said.
She continued “being really good at science” and went on to San Francisco State University, where she received a bachelor of arts degree in radio and television. She subsequently completed a meteorology certificate at Mississippi State University.
Before moving to NBC4 in 2014, she worked for TV stations in Denver, San Francisco, and Oregon.
“Part of the job is moving around the country from little markets and working your way up. I had to leave home in order to do that and it was hard on the family because being Filipino American, everyone wants to be together…” she said. “It was difficult for me to do that for a while because I’d be away from my family and I couldn’t see them as much.”
Each market has nurtured her skills as a weather forecaster and has given her a host of experiences covering extreme conditions, from floods to hurricanes.
“I remember one time I was able to see the development of a tornado [in Colorado]…It was scary and my mom was like, ‘Don’t do that again.’ I think seeing that helped me with what I’m doing now here in LA,” she recalled.
A big misconception about meteorologists is that they simply have to “talk, smile, and be pretty,” she said. However, their work requires analyzing weather patterns and utilizing technology in order to narrate a story for the newscast.
“My day starts the day before with planning and getting a good night’s rest, but before that, studying all the computer models,” she shared. “Meteorologists do a lot of work. I studied in school to learn how to read these computer models to tell us the weather patterns and what’s going to happen, and then keep up to date with the news because that relates to weather and telling people what to be prepared for as well.”
Given that information for the upcoming day, she mentally forms a script about how to tell the weather story.
At her current station, Mendiola takes her segment a step further and gets to integrate tools, such as the NBC4x4Caster (a high-tech Jeep that allows them to produce stationary and mobile weather reporters), the StormRanger 4 (a mobile Doppler weather radar truck that can gather in real-time weather and meteorological information), and augmented reality to enhance the weather stories.
These investments are what set NBC4’s broadcast apart from others and help her “tell the story differently,” she said, as the team can go live from any neighborhood and track the rain directly, for instance.
“I like to be at the forefront of things and being able to tell people about it, so it’s really awesome that I’m part of this team at NBC4,” she said. “We’re the first to let you know about your weather, even though there’s this [notion] that Southern California doesn’t have a lot of weather going on.”
With summer approaching in the coming weeks, Mendiola emphasized the importance of making sure homes are not at fire risk, as well as staying cool, drinking water, and of course, watching the daily forecast.
As for those who want to pursue a career in media, she has this to share: “Filipino or not, I hope that me being on this platform, it shows that you can do anything you really put your mind to. It takes a lot of work but if you continue to work hard for it, you’ll get there.”
“I think no matter what you want to do, whether or not it’s television or news, something important — and something I apply every day — is to stay humble because it really puts you in the right mindset for what you’re doing in life. You don’t let your ego get to you and it helps to be grounded and keeps you focused on what’s important.”