Harmony Mendoza knew she wanted to be a “weather lady” when she was only 15 years old. But with no mentors and little to no support at home, she wasn’t quite sure how she was going to make that dream come true. Today, however, the Florida native is a meteorologist for WVTM 13 in Birmingham and is making a difference even beyond her broadcasts. She educates the community about weather preparedness through various outreach programs, she is a Birmingham brand ambassador for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and she volunteers on the Black Warrior Riverkeeper‘s advisory council as a meteorologist. We’re excited to introduce you to this week’s FACE of Birmingham, Harmony Mendoza.
How did you get interested in meteorology?
I was a part of a club in high school that would take you on a career day to different places, and one of the places they took us to was a TV station in Tampa — ABC Action News. The chief meteorologist, Denis Phillips, was talking and doing the weather. He was funny. He was kind of silly but smart, and people were taking him seriously, and it just enamored me.
I’ve always been a goofball. I got “Class Clown” in high school. Denis Phillips said, “You’ve got the personality, and nowadays that’s the hardest thing to find. So if you can get through school and keep that personality, you might have something.”
You were concerned your grades would hold you back.
In high school, I really wasn’t that concerned with academics. When I was 12 and my brother was 15, my mom started traveling on the road with her music, almost 7 to 8 months a year. I didn’t have any accountability. I didn’t get really good grades. I didn’t study. I didn’t have anybody at home.
I was Homecoming queen. I was on Homecoming court every year. I was on Student Council. I played soccer, ran track, cross country, played tennis, did cheerleading. I did everything to stay out of trouble, mainly. That was my protective mechanism — to be a social butterfly. But I had never embraced education as part of my life.
What did you do after high school to work toward your goal of becoming a meteorologist?
After high school, I went to community college, and I remember on the first day sitting down with the counselor and she asked, “What do you want to do?” and I said, “I want to be a meteorologist. I want to be a weather lady.” And she took out this piece of paper and she said, regarding math, “You’re here, and we need you to be here.” I will never forget that moment even though it was 22 years ago, because I thought I’m never going to get there, because I was taking remedial math when I first got to community college.
But I got my associate’s degree, and then I went to Florida State University and double-majored in geography and meteorology. And over the years, I’ve taken more classes and gotten more certificates. I went into the broadcast meteorology program at Mississippi State. I continue to further my education, because once I got to college, my eyes just opened up to a whole new world.
As soon as I started really learning and realizing how much power there is in knowledge, that blew my mind. People were listening to me, not because I was making a joke, but because I was making a difference in how they were going to see things, and that was a big deal for me. That was huge.
You believe your faith has played a large role in your success.
I have really strong faith. I know for certain from the day that my mom went on the road to today, that God holds me up, because I just don’t understand how I made it through all of that. We were alone for so long. It’s just obvious that God was watching me. There’s no other rational explanation as to why I would be here today.
Do you believe meteorology is still a male-dominated field?
I think that it’s still viewed as male-dominated, but I have never felt intimidated by men in my field. I’m very brash, and I’ve always stood up for myself. And I’m lucky enough that for the past eight years, I’ve gotten to work with Jerry [Tracey, WVTM 13’s Chief Meteorologist] who is amazing.
I don’t think it has anything to do with the managers or the news industry. I just think [a patriarchal structure is] what the general public perceives as trustworthy. With the general public, it seems like the trust factor is not quite there yet with a female leader.
What do you do outside of your broadcasts to keep the community educated on weather preparedness?
I do school visits whenever I can.
I can do the weather in English and Spanish, and since I’ve been here, I’ve opened up the doors of communication to people who are bilingual, especially after the April 27 tornadoes. There was a significant Hispanic population that was either ill-informed or not informed. So, I — and the National Weather Service — have worked hard to remedy that situation.
Also, I work closely with the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind to increase the amount of closed captions that we have, not just on TV but on all of our social media outlets. For the blind, I do my best to describe the weather and the weather map so that everyone would understand it, even if you were blind.
And within my newscast, I really like sneaking a little bit of science in there, because I really hope that people do trust me.
How did you get involved with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital?
My husband is a cancer survivor. When we got married and merged our bank accounts, he said, “I don’t care if we’re broke and living on the streets, I vow to make my donation to St. Jude every month.” After he retired, one day he said to me, “You should use your voice for something other than just doing the weather. What about getting more involved in St. Jude?”
In 2016, I was the co-chair for Birmingham’s St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer, and I’ve been the brand ambassador for the past two years.
When you’re not working or volunteering, what do you like to do for fun?
I’ve been teaching and doing Zumba for about 10 to 15 years. I used to teach Zumba at the YMCA downtown. I love to dance, but I love to dance at the YMCA in a Christian environment, where people aren’t all up in my business. I’m not trying to go to the club.
I have a 27-year-old stepson who has an 8-year-old son, and I have a 5-year-old son. I like to be with the boys, but they don’t like to do anything that I like to do, so I go to the woods, I hunt, I fish — but deep down I’m looking for a mani/pedi and a massage.
What are some of your favorite places in Birmingham?
I love Red Mountain Park and Ruffner Mountain. People worked so hard to dredge out the iron ore from the mountains to build the city that we live in. I love the history of this town. On my days off, I’ve been to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum. The Birmingham Museum of Art downtown — I love that.
As for restaurants, my husband and I like to eat at this place in Hoover called Dale’s. We like Salem’s Diner for breakfast in Homewood. They’re hilarious and big weather buffs. And Ted’s is always tasty.
What’s the best advice you have to offer?
I would just encourage people to be more empathetic and cognizant of other human beings on the planet and not be so self-absorbed. Try to understand things from a different perspective before you wind up on the wrong side of the fence. There shouldn’t be a fence. But just step outside yourself for five minutes and look around you. Open your eyes.
Other than faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Pedicures, lipstick and Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale
Thank you, Harmony! And thank you to Eric & Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for today’s images!
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