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"What's it like to be a meteorologist?" - Part 1

For starters, the preceding question needs to be a little more specific. There are many different types of meteorologist. Some work in the military, others work for private forecasting firms. And let’s not forget about the National Weather Service, the National Hurricane Center, and countless other agencies which employ atmospheric scientists. Broadcast meteorologists (TV folks) represent only a small part of the entire spectrum of forecasters.

Even within the walls of a single TV station, the workflow of a meteorologist depends greatly on the shift. In the TV business, there is no normal “9 to 5” job since the workday is constructed around newscasts (6 AM, 5 PM, 11 PM, and so on). A “weekend meteorologist” works every Saturday and Sunday, as well as most holidays (including Christmas). A “morning meteorologist” covers morning newscasts during the week, often beginning the workday at 2 AM. An “evening meteorologist” has the advantage of sleeping a little later in the mornings, but a typical workday lasts until midnight.

I’ve been a forecaster for nearly 20 years now, and have worked every one of these shifts at one time or another. I know from experience that no single meteorologist carries the weight. It requires a team effort. I am thankful to be surrounded by a dedicated weather crew here at WWAY, including a talented morning meteorologist (Tim Buckley) and a dependable weekend meteorologist (Christina Anthony). And without a solid team of producers, directors, production staff and engineers, our weathercast would never reach viewers in the first place.

But to truly understand the daily routine of a broadcast meteorologist, disregard the “Hollywood” idea of meteorology. I do not drive a truck into the path of EF-5 tornadoes, or dodge flying cows in the middle of a hailstorm like you see in the movies (think “Twister”). There is very little glamour in broadcast meteorology, but plenty of work. It’s sometimes tedious, often exhausting… but always interesting.

In answer to the original question, here is my typical work day:


1 PM- 2 PM: This time is usually reserved for visits to area schools, businesses, or civic organizations. I give presentations on a wide variety of topics, from operational forecasting to historic storm discussions. Weather visits are not done every day, but our weather staff collectively conducts 1-2 visitations per week in most months.

2 PM to 3:15 PM: During this time, I begin to examine computer models and formulate a forecast. I also meet with our directors and producers to finalize shot selections/story sequencing for the afternoon newscast.

3:15 PM to 3:45 PM: Work begins for the creation of weather graphics used in the evening newscast. Every animation you see in the weathercast, from 7-Day outlooks to surface weather maps with cold fronts, must be created or updated by the meteorologist. A typical weathercast can contain as many as 25 separate graphical elements.

3:45 PM to 3:50 PM: Suit-up for the newscast

3:50 PM to 4:20 PM: Work continues on weather graphics. Remember, 25 animations takes a while to complete!

4:20 PM to 4:30 PM: Afternoon “teases” are shot in the studio. Teases are essentially commercials in which we tell viewers what is “coming up” on the evening news.

4:30 PM to 4:50 PM: Forecast products are updated for our website, facebook, twitter, and email accounts.

4:50 PM to 5:00 PM: Final tweaks/proofs for animations

5:00 PM to 6:30 PM: Newscast Time!

6:30 PM to 7:00 PM: Teases are shot for the late-night newscast.

7:00 PM to 8:00 PM: Dinner

8:00 PM to 10:20 PM: “Workshop Time”- This time is devoted to production work for ongoing projects. Examples of ongoing projects include the weekly “Atmosphere Academy” segments, weather documentaries, presentations for schools/civic groups, creation of new weather graphics, weather blog updates, etc. This time is also used to create informative new posts for our station social networking sites, and conversing with our viewers via facebook, twitter, email, or phone.

10:20 PM to 10:30 PM: Additional teases are shot for the late-night newscast.

10:30 PM-10:45 PM: Final tweaks/adjustments to forecast graphics

10:45 PM to 10:55 PM: Suit-up for the 11PM show

10:55 PM to 11 PM: Last minute show checks

11 PM to 11:35 PM: Newscast time!

11:35 PM-Midnight: Final computer shut-downs, final checks to make sure everything is working properly for the next shift


Of course, this schedule applies to a “typical” day. In next week’s blog entry, we will examine the organized chaos of a severe weather day. That’s when things really get interesting…

(Jerry is now on facebook. Join his page by clicking on the following link: Chief Meteorologist Jerry Jackson)

By: Jerry Jackson