This is just one of many pictures of when I spent a week up at Penn State Weather Camp. I was in the process of watching a day to day work schedule of the meteorologists within AccuWeather. They were showing the high-tech new data used on television screens and model production.
Predicting how strong a storm, whether a hurricane, tornado or thunderstorm will be is part science and part art — and it wouldn't be possible without sophisticated measurement and forecasting technology.
1. Do you enjoy your job? What are the rewards of your job?
Yes I do enjoy my job – unless I don’t quite get the forecast right and then it can be rough. The best part of my day is getting to tell people information they need to know. I not only tell them what is happening, but why it's happening and how it will affect them. I enjoy being a part of the media and being in front of the camera. There are times you will go to the store and people will recognize you from television. So if you enjoy that then you’re in luck. There are downfalls, such as not correctly forecasting a storm or having to hear people's negative comments and criticism.
2. What is the best education or training for your work?
Training is ongoing as education is very important. I have my meteorology certificate from Mississippi State University and that program is 3 years long. If you get a full meteorology degree, it generally takes about 4 years. There is a lot of math and science in weather so it's important to have that type of background and education. The National Weather Service also holds different seminars and meetings that can be used to help further your education and get additional training.
Meteorology is a broad field that touches on nearly every area of science, so a general background in math, science and technology is included in every meteorological curriculum. In some respects, meteorology has become applied mathematics, so a solid background in math is essential. If you are planning on becoming a television meteorologist, then communication skills are very important.
3. Do you work alone or with others, how much of the time? Do you ever work in groups?
You generally work alone each day, at least at most television stations. However, when a big storm is coming through, we will track the conditions together and combine all of our knowledge and expertise into one in hopes of putting together the best and most accurate forecast. When I worked at AccuWeather you will see a much different story. There are more than 100 meteorologists in one building and they work together to put the forecast out.
4. How might this job change in the next 10 years? How will technology affect this occupation?
New technology comes out all the time. Models become clearer and more reliable. I see many of the aspects of weather and the tools we use getting better. Social media has also changed the game. So many people now have smart phones and tablets allowing them to get information right away. This can be useful if the power goes out. If your television isn’t working, how can you get the needed info? You can easily head to your phone or tablet and get the information there. We try to keep people updated on Facebook and Twitter during weather events in case they are on the go and can’t turn on the television and watch our newscast.
5. How did you decide to do this kind of work? What motivated you to be interested in this particular career?
I have always enjoyed weather growing up. I am from the Snowbelt in Northeast Ohio, so I've always been around crazy weather. I also lived in Montana and they have Chinook winds. They are known as "snow-eaters." The winds are warmer so if there is any snow, they'll get rid of them quickly but also make it windy and warm. The next day you could be back to colder weather. I had originally gone into the news anchor/reporter route but kept falling back into the weather end of the business. It was something I took to like a duck to water and just couldn't walk away from it. It was my internship at WKYC in Cleveland that really pushed me into really enjoying the weather. I had at one time thought about being a psychologist but decided to go in the news route.
6. If you were to mentor me and advise me on choosing a college for meteorology, which of these colleges would you pick and why? Florida State, Embry-Riddle, or University of Oklahoma?
I have heard two of the better colleges for meteorology are Florida State and Penn State University. If you would ever want to get a job at AccuWeather, they work closely with Penn State. I have also heard great things about Florida State. As for the University of Oklahoma, you get to work in tornado alley so I can imagine you’d get to storm chase a bit. If you want hurricanes and sunny, warm days, then Florida may be the way to go! I haven’t heard much about Embry-Riddle’s meteorology program.
7. When I’m finished with my training, what suggestions would you give someone who is trying to locate job opportunities in this field?
In general, you should take as many math and science classes as possible. You can get a full meteorology degree or a meteorology certificate from a school such as Mississippi State University. They are known for their online meteorology courses that are designed for on-air/TV meteorologists. You can take the track of working at the National Weather Service, doing weather in the military or at a TV station. You can also focus on a specific track such as climatology or forensic meteorology. It can be tough getting into the business, especially if you want to work in television. Be prepared to start small and not make much money. My first job was in Great Falls, Montana and I only made $20,000 a year.
8. What do you like best about this job? What do you like least about this job?
I enjoy doing the weather because it's something that affects everyone. You need to know what the day will hold and plan on if you need a jacket or an umbrella. I like hearing from viewers that they enjoy watching my broadcasts or that they can relate to me. It's nice to hear the feedback, knowing you are doing a good job. When you are able to forecast a storm correctly, that is always an added bonus. It's tough when you 'bust' on a forecast and the storm doesn't pan out like you had forecasted it to. It's also unfortunate when you hear the negative comments from people, but it can be constructive criticism that helps you in the end.
9. What advice would you give someone entering this field of work?
If I could give myself any advice it would be to take more science classes. I didn't really like math and science, so I tried to avoid the classes as much as I could. I had the chance to take more of those classes in college and if I could do it differently, I would have. You should learn as much as you can and practice, practice, practice. I'd also tell myself to have a thick skin because it's a tough business trying to forecast what Mother Nature is thinking and people will give you a hard time if you get the weather wrong. Some people also like to tell you why they don't like you or your clothing or your hair. I'd advise myself to just take the comments with a grain of salt.
10. What is one thing that surprised you about your career/current position?
I didn’t think I would need a lot of math and science. For some reason, I anticipated math being the farthest thing from my mind when I graduated. Keep in mind I graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Then when I decided to go back to school for weather I realized the mistake I had made by not gaining as much education as I could. My suggestion: be a sponge and take everything in that you can. I also knew the viewers would likely have an opinion about me and how I did my job. I didn’t realize how opinionated and critical they could be toward me.
11. Was it easy finding a job and one that is well-paid enough to stabilize your debt and expenses?
Like I mentioned before, you have to be prepared to be the low man on the totem pole. I had to work at a number of television stations before getting to make a reasonable salary. It’s important to take advantage of a 401K to start saving. You should also be prepared to eat mac and cheese and ramen noodles when you start out. I thought my professors were joking. They weren’t really kidding. It’s also good to get a few internships if you can. Some are paid but not all. Learn as much as you can and try and do lots to gain as much knowledge as possible. Those key things helped me get the position I have now and the ones prior to my current career.
As the storm known on social media as #gobblegeddon swept toward Pittsburgh on Monday, local meteorologists consulted their computer models to predict its impact on holiday travelers. Unlike the "Snowmageddon" -- are we sensing a naming trend here? -- of February 2010, however, they now have a new technology at hand. Nearly 30 years in development, the National Weather Service's "dual polarization radar" doesn't just detect precipitation and determine its movement, as with conventional Doppler radar. The "dual pol" system creates a two-dimensional picture that can identify different sizes of raindrops, hail, snow, ice pellets and other flying objects, including insects. "It sends a pulse out in two different planes, a horizontal plane and a vertical plane," explained Jack Boston, expert
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