Screaming gales, jagged blades of lightning, soaking rains, sudden floods, bitter freezes, and the not-so-occasional tornado all come through the streets of New Orleans. And with such tempestuous conditions, you usually do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. One such forecaster is Darren Daley, also known as the Tinder Meteorologist. Daley now has over 19,000 followers on Instagram after spending most of his career quietly tracking and modeling storms in the Atlantic Basin. During the lead up to Hurricane Ida in 2021, his page saw a comet-like rise in followers as New Orleanians looked for minute-by-minute storm updates and, as the power outage dragged on, ways to help others in their community. Now a mainstay on the Instagram stories of thousands, Daley sat down with me at Flora to discuss meteorology, mutual aid, and how to make it through another hurricane season.
Tell me how you became the Tinder Meteorologist.
It’s a funny story. In 2017, I got out of a long-term relationship. When I got into the relationship, Tinder didn’t exist. So all of a sudden, there’s this app. I thought it was the best thing ever. So I go on this absolute Tinder rampage for like three months. And then, do you remember Hurricane Nate? It was October 2017. Yeah, we thought it was gonna hit us. It didn’t wind up doing anything; it was kind of a dud. All of a sudden, all these girls that I met on this Tinder rampage are blowing up my phone, just asking me questions like, “I don’t know what to do. Should I evacuate?” And it got to the point where it did get overwhelming. I had to say to everybody, “OK, just stop. Stop with the questions.” And I was like, “Here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna start sending you updates every few hours. And then hopefully they answer all your questions. If you still have questions after you read the updates, hit me.” I had never done any public-facing forecasts and it had all been behind the scenes. So I was a little nervous, but the updates were very well received. And everyone was like, “Wow, these are great! Thank you, I’m sending them to my friend.” So I kept doing that for the next two [hurricane] seasons 2018, 2019. And if there was ever a threat, I would send out this group text update about it.
So all your boos, you would send out a group message.
Basically—so 2020 rolls around. And my friend Jacqueline, who I had met on Tinder, said, “Hey, instead of texting a bunch of people, why don’t you start an Instagram page? That way, people can follow you. You only have to type once instead of copy and paste or whatever it is that you do.” It was never something that I thought would go beyond my personal friend group—that’s all it was intended for. And so, two days before I’m gonna go live with this thing on June 1st of 2020, I still don’t have a name for it, and I’m talking to a different friend who said, “Well, what I can tell you is when my friends text me and ask me for updates, they text me: “Where is Tinder Meteorologist?” I was like, you know, I think that’s it. So that’s the origin story. If I had known it was going to get as big as it has, I probably would have called it something else.
But it’s catchy!
It’s too late now. One of my buddies told me the other day, “You know, you’re just gonna be the Tinder Meteorologist for the rest of your life, right?” I was like, “Yeah.”
You were doing supply chain stuff after Katrina, but then you switched to meteorology?
No, I went to college for general geosciences; meteorology was always interesting. And I had worked at it in some capacities prior to Katrina. I always knew I was going to do [meteorology] in some way, ever since I was a small child. And I find that a lot of meteorologists say “I’ve known that this is gonna be my passion ever since I was very young.”
Do you work in meteorology now?
I’m a part-time contractor.
What does that work entail?
I do computer modeling and tracking support during the Atlantic Basin hurricane season.
Can you explain weather modeling in layman’s terms?
Well, first of all, there is more than one model. There are literally dozens. How a computer model works, it takes historical data, compares it against actual data from what’s going on right that second, and attempts to predict the future outcome. Different models are more reliable for different things. There are some models that are more reliable for tropical weather. Some models are more reliable for mid-latitude cyclones. Everything can be hard to predict. A lot of it depends on where you are. For example, out West, you know the mountains add a whole ‘nother element to it. You have to be very familiar with the microclimates that exist in that region. For example, Lake Pontchartrain in the spring. If you go to the lakeshore some days in the spring like March [or] April, it can be 15 to 20 degrees cooler there than it is in the rest of the city if the other parameters are favorable, because the lake water is still very cool. It hasn’t warmed up yet. Bodies of water don’t keep heat or cool nearly as quickly as landmasses. So that’s why you have that seasonal lag and that’s also why the peak of the hurricane season is in September and October, not in July or August. Because it’s actually September and October [when] the Gulf of Mexico and the other source regions for our hurricanes here are the warmest.
Compared to my experience here, which is only six years, these past few months have not been too, too hot.
No. April was considerably cooler than usual. There is always going to be—climate change is real, climate change is happening. There’s no question about it, but climate change data refers to long-term data smoothed out for variance. You’re still gonna have months that are below normal. It just means that the long-term trend is gonna be toward warmer-than-normal temperatures, when you take all the days and average them together over a long period of time. And that’s part of the problem with the whole climate change situation, is sample size. Meteorology is a very new science. So it gets a little complex, but it’s definitely happening. It’s definitely an issue that needs to be dealt with.
But since we had a cooler spring, can we expect that to help us with hurricanes?
No, there’s no correlation. It might be a degree or two cooler right at the shoreline, but the source regions for our hurricanes are hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. For example, Ida developed in the Southwest Caribbean; Katrina developed in the Bahamas. If something develops right off the coast, which it could, it will likely be very weak because it doesn’t have the time to build up that energy.
Do we have any predictions for this year so far?
OK, well, disclaimer: I place very little stock in long-term predictions. And it seems to me, and this is anecdotal, that those long-term predictions are getting less accurate as the years go on, and not more accurate. The long-term, pre-season prediction for this year is for a below-average season, in terms of the number of storms. But last year, the pre-season prediction was for a very busy season, and it was the slowest season in many years. They’re just educated guesses. And they are based on actually what’s happening in the Pacific with a couple of features called La Niña and El Niño. That has to do with the upper-level winds. If they’re too strong, they can rip hurricanes apart. That’s another thing you need to sustain hurricanes—calm upper-level winds. That’s just as important as the sea surface temperatures. because if the upper-level winds are too strong, they’ll literally rip the top of the hurricane off.
I became aware of your profile during Hurricane Ida.
That’s when most people found it.
Were you surprised by how many people were on your page?
I was. I was absolutely stunned. The Wednesday before—so four days before [the storm hit]—I had 1,200 followers. The following Monday I had 12,700.
Was it overwhelming?
Yes. The first four to five days after I was spending 16 to 18 hours a day just posting mutual aid stuff, disaster relief stuff, and answering DMs.
I noticed you also share a lot of mutual aid and other resources. I was wondering how you heard about mutual aid networks?
Most of it, I’ve heard from what people sent me immediately post-Ida. And I looked a little more into it. I was like: OK, this isn’t a perfect system, but it is by far the most efficient way to get resources to people who are in immediate need. I found that it worked better than any other system that I’ve been aware of, so I was happy to reshare anything that came my way. You know, a couple of days post-Ida that’s what my account essentially turned into—just like a community resource, bulletin board type of thing.
And I see you do Instagram posts on music performance forecasts, and also share missing pets.
Animal welfare is a huge cause for me. I’ve kind of become the lost pet bulletin and I am more than happy to do it.
I know you wanted to talk about hurricane preparedness. What do you think people should know? And where are good places to get information?
I put up a five-part series on hurricane preparedness. National Hurricane Preparedness Week was last week [April 30 to May 6], but I didn’t feel like it was a good time to do that, in the middle of the two Jazz Fest weekends. So I waited and I’m doing mine this week. But I put up the second in a five-part series of posts today, covering hurricane supply kits. By far, the most you can do to prepare for hurricane season is get your hurricane supply kit together. And I cover in my posts in great detail all the things that you need. The best way that people in this community can help me is by getting one of those together. It will save you so much grief when you don’t have to forage for supplies at the last minute. Yes, it takes some time and it’s a pain in the ass. But if the big threat comes, God forbid, it will be well worth it. And you’ll be very glad you did it. That’s the message that I’ve just hammered, post after post after post: Prepare. Do it now. Don’t wait. Because it may be too late when you finally decide to get it together. I get so many DMs at the last minute, the day before a storm is supposed to hit: “Oh my God, I don’t have this. Where do I get it?” These people are panicked. And it’s avoidable. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Is there anything you wish people knew about extreme heat? We’re coming into that season as well.
Best thing you can do is hydrate. Drink twice as much water as you think you need. You hear all the stuff about loose-fitting clothing and all that’s important, but the most important thing is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, and limit your exposure if possible. I know that’s not possible for everybody. People work outside. Hopefully this June is not like last year, which was the hottest month average temperature basis in New Orleans history.
Is there anything you think the city can do differently to help people during hurricane season?
The City Response Plan is a disaster. There is no cogent evacuation plan for those who can’t evacuate on their own. That is a huge problem. But I don’t want to get too much into that. So that’s really all I’m gonna say about it.
You don’t monetize your account, you post a lot, and you’re also pretty responsive to messages. So what keeps you doing this work?
I love this community. And the monetization is something that I struggled with for a long time. People would offer to donate, and I wouldn’t say no, but it felt kind of… icky to me. A friend of mine said, “It shouldn’t feel icky, you’ve worked so hard on this.” You know it is full-time hours sometimes. Especially during hurricane season, wedding season, and busy festival weekends. So I use what I call the NPR model. The information is free and will always be free to everybody. There will never be a charge for it. And there will never be a charge for levels of information. Like I’m not going to make the situation where everyone gets some information, but only the people that pay get all the information. So the NPR model is, anyone can turn on NPR on their radio and listen to it. But they are dependent on public support and donations. So I list my payment links in my bio and every once in a while I’ll pop up and say, “If you find the information useful, send me a few bucks.” But there’s never an obligation. I consider weather forecasts to be a public good. Everybody needs it, regardless of their class or socioeconomic status, or gender or lack thereof. Everybody needs it. I consider it a public service and it will always be free to everyone.
I just imagine this is a position you never thought you would be in as a contractor.
Do you ever get recognized?
It’s starting. I’ve started to put my picture out there a little with some stuff. And people are asking me to start doing more community events. I’m the official meteorologist for Wednesday at the Square this year. If they have to cancel on a certain Wednesday because of weather, I’m the one that has to make that call. I’m starting to get asked to be like, the celebrity guest judge for a crawfish festival this coming weekend. Stuff like that. I’m trying to get out in the community more than I have.
What do you love most about meteorology?
There are a few things. No two days are the same. Literally. Every storm is different. Every heatwave is different. Every cold snap is different. They all have their little nuances. I learn something from every one. It’s incredible how organized nature is. You know I’m not a big believer in it, but nature is evidence for some kind of higher power that we don’t understand—you know, it’s too well organized not to be. I got a bunch of DMs last year saying, “You saved my life.” And while I think that’s exaggerating, you know, probably because they’ve just felt really scared at that moment. Whether their life was ever really in danger… I’m not sure that’s the case, but it’s still really humbling to hear that. The trust that this community has put in me is humbling. It’s a labor of love. And there is nothing I’d rather be doing.
For more info, check out @thetindermeteorologist on Instagram.
Illustrations by Anneliese DePano