Careers as a TV Meteorologist
How to become a TV weathercaster
The requirements and job duties of a television meteorologist have changed greatly over the years. When the profession began, weathercasters used magnetic weather symbols or markers to draw fronts and high and low pressure systems on boards to convey their forecasts. Today high tech has taken over. Weathercasters now use computers to display glitzy 3-d graphics or "augmented reality", dual-polarization Doppler radars to identify approaching storms, live video from storm chasers, social media, tower cams and even drones to show the most current weather.
Watch our Careers as a meteorologist Youtube video with meteorologist Rich Johnson
Studies / Schooling
There are many ways to become a television meteorologist. First, and probably most common manner, is by going to a college or university where you can obtain a meteorology or atmospheric science degree. Florida State University, University of Oklahoma, Penn State, and Mississippi State are a few of the many universities for meteorological studies. Second, some students major in journalism in college then become weathercasters later. A student may be interested in journalism and news reporting. He or she may begin as a news anchor and be called to fill in for a meteorologist. Thirdly, some have been trained as meteorologists in the military. The military offers study similar to that received in accredited colleges for meteorology. Lastly, it is possible to become a weathercaster coming from a totally unrelated field of study. The news director may find someone that relates well with people and hire them.
A typical day at work
A typical day at work most likely would start at home. Many meteorologists constantly look at the weather and keep up with the latest weather trends. Once at the TV station, the day would start by looking at the current weather, then checking the computer model forecasts. The meteorologist will likely need to meet with producers and other station management to brief them on the day's forecast. This weather information is used by them for news stories as well as allocating crews covering any weather story.
After the briefing he or she would then prepare a radio forecast if necessary, then look at the latest numerical forecast models which display all types of weather data. Temperature, wind, rainfall, snowfall, and severe weather parameters are some examples of the information that the meteorologist will study. There are many different computer models to look at, all with their own unique set of equations that usually produce different forecast solutions. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to know which forecast computer model has the best handle on the situation.
Once a meteorologist determines which forecast that they think will be most accurate, he or she will then create the weather graphics on a computer to display the story to the public. In some television stations or cable networks, graphic techs create the weather forecasts that will be shown on-air. After the graphics are created, the meteorologist will check that everything is in proper working order. In the world of computers, it is very easy to miss all of the details that make a weathercast flow smoothly.
Before the show starts, the meteorologist must apply make-up. Just like in the movies, bright lights can cause shiny spots or deep shadows on people's faces. To correct this problem, make-up is used, even by the men. Some television stations have a make-up artist for the on-air talent. TV stations with a smaller budget require the on-air people to do their own make-up. The process can take anywhere from a few minutes to about an hour depending if the on-air person's hair is styled.
If there is any additional time before the weathercast starts, the meteorologist may research events occurring in town. This allows him or her to be able to cover topics that the viewers are interested in. Parades, concerts, ball games, lake forecasts, marine forecasts, ski forecasts, fishing forecasts are all examples of events and subjects that the meteorologist studies for his viewer to give a well rounded weathercast. Even though it is not directly related, the meteorologist should also be aware of any celestial objects of interest such as a lunar eclipse, solar eclipse, comets, or meteor showers. The public relates astronomy to weather considering that it is viewed in the sky.
As the newscast starts, the weathercaster may be on the set with the news team. He or she also may be in the weather office if a breaking weather story is occurring. During the average weathercast, the meteorologist may be on the air for about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes. They may have several "mini-weather updates" or teases that last from about 5 to 10 seconds. In severe weather situations, the meteorologist may be on for much longer stretches of time and work many hours.
I do have a couple of strong opinions on the use of weather graphics. It is based on research and my opinion too. 1. "Street Level Doppler" - I don't like it and don't think it should be used. I say this knowing the limitiations of radar. Ask any National Weather Service meteorologist their opinion after going through their required rigorous radar training. The accurary of pinpointing a shower or much worse - a possible tornado - is not accurate enough to say it is located on a specific street. It is much better to use terms in a more general sense. 2. The new 3-D virtual reality graphics. In general, I'm not a fan. Are they cool looking and fun? Yes. Are they what the audience wants to see and is there enough time in a typical weathercast to use them? I would say no. I say this as research shows that people want to know if it's going to rain tomorrow and if is going to be hot or cold. Other than a few weather addicts, most of your audience really doesn't care. News directors love Street Level Doppler and Virtual Reality because it looks really nice and makes it look like their station is more advanced than the other stations. 3. Spending big cash on the station's own radar system. In most cases this is a waste of money as the radar supplied by the NWS via whatever graphics system is used is more than sufficient. I will add that if the station is not close to a NWS radar and particularly in a severe weather area, then it is a good investment.
News directors now want their meteorologists to be social media super stars. This includes updating the public concerning warnings and other meteorological points of interest. This is achieved by mostly using Twitter, but Facebook Live and other social media can also be used. It is also likely that the meteorologist will need to tape a weathercast between shows to be used on the station's website. This allows for a greater connection between the station's viewers and weather team. This is a good strategy to increase viewership for the station, but can be very taxing to the meteorologist especially on busy weather days. If a TV station does not have closed caption software, the meteorologist type their forecast into a closed caption system. This is done to help with the hearing impared audience.
TV Meteorologist Salaries and Landing a Weathercasting Job
Salaries have decreased over the last decade. There are a number of factors for this happening. First, there are many more broadcast meteorologists as more schools teach meteorology. Second, degrees in meteorology are easier to achieve as some universities offer online programs, as well as some tracks that do not include hardcore calculus and physics. Supply and demand. More broadcast meteorologists are competing for a limitied number of positions. This allows news stations to offer lower salaries. Other factors for the decline in salaries include less ad revenue as there are a larger number of stations to divide the money. People are tuning away from TV and watching on demand via phones and other media.
Salaries also vary by the market (town) size, amount of experience, their popularity with the public, ownership of the particular television station, and many other reasons. Generally speaking, the bigger the market, the higher the salary that one would be paid. The reason for this is because larger markets can make higher ad revenues. There are over 200 markets in the U.S. with cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia being near the top. Working in a small market may mean living in a town that you have never heard of before.
At a television station, there are normally three or four meteorologists to cover the newscasts during the week. The chief meteorologist is the head of the team. He / she is the highest paid. The morning / noon meteorologist is usually next in salary paid, after them the weekend meteorologist. Any fill-in meteorologist is lowest paid on average. Keep in mind there are always exceptions to the rule. Also, in some of the largest TV markets, stations may have five meteorologists on staff. The extra weathercasters may help with vacation relief or have other responsibilities. Small market TV stations may only have two weathercasters to cover the week with limited newscasts.
Television stations are owned by different groups or media companies. Some media company ownerships tend to pay more than others. This is a result of the personal business philosophy of that station's owner. One station may try to get away with the "bare bones" in making a newscast and skimp on salaries and other areas. Another station may reward its employees with good salaries and benefits. Knowing people in the news business is really the only sure way to know if a certain station will pay a reasonable salary for its market size.
A person's popularity is another way to measure salary. News stations regularly research the popularity of their on-air personalities. A meteorologist that may be a local celebrity or has been in a market many years may be paid well above what that market size calls for. On the reverse side, a large market may hire someone with relatively little experience and may make less than what would be expected in that market.
Finally, what kind of salaries can be expected? In a top 10 market, the chief meteorologist may make $400,000 or considerably more. The morning / noon meteorologist can make about $150,000 - $400,000 and the weekend meteorologist about $40,000 - 150,000. Keep in mind that most meteorologists don't make anything close to these salaries. As a comparison, the chief meteorologist can make about $45,000 - $90,000 around market 100, and less than $30,000 in market 200. In TV cable, weathercasters make a wide margin as well - from the range of near $50,000 to well over $300,000 for the prime time weathercasters. Remember, that are no hard and fast rules concerning salaries, just generalities. You are as valuable as the management at the station perceives, and your salary will be influenced by this.
Television is a visual medium. The cold hard truth is that people who are good looking tend to find their way into the business much easier than others. They will also rise to the top markets much more quickly too. This fact is true throughout the business world, but much more evident in television. Improving your wardrobe, smile, and hair are all ways to improve your appearance.
You probably have heard of the "X" factor. It is something that is hard to put into words, but you know that a person just "has it". Some people are natural at giving a great weather presentation, and you are drawn to them. This is something that you can do little to change, but does play a role on how some people can seem to get job offers at ease.
Another lightly considered aspect of being a television meteorologist is working shift work and holidays. Carefully consider that the hours may be far less than desirable for normal family life. Your work hours may not allow you to eat dinner with your family, or you may need to be at work at 2 am. You may not be able to go to church with your family or take off holidays such as Thanksgiving, 4th of July, or Christmas. You may need to work nights, shift work, or if you're a weather reporter, be away from home for several days at a time. As a meteorologist, you will also likely be called on to give talks to schools, civic groups and participate in company functions during your non-scheduled hours. In many cases you will not be paid for these appearances and they are simply considered part of the job. Some companies do give "comp" days for a number of talks given.
The ideal weathercaster:
Here is a general summary of what a news director would be looking for in a weathercaster. Keep in mind this is from my personal experience and experiences of other colleagues. The most important characteristics are listed first.... 1. The person should be very attractive and young. In my opinion, this is BY FAR the most important factor. 2. Energy, energy, energy! 3. "Tell a story and make it come alive". 4. They should be a social media titan, especially on Twitter. 5. The candidate should be available 24/7 and ready to be called in on days off or whenever the weather is rough. 6. Someone who holds the CBM or NWA weather seal, preferably both. 7. Being trained as a "one man band" is always a plus. Not only knowing meteorology, but also reporting and editing. 8. A meteorology degree from an accredited institution.
Some news directors will place the value of education much higher, especially in severe weather markets.
As a word of advice, do not copy your weather presentation from someone that you idolize on air. Everyone is different and you should let your own personality and style show. The best on air meteorologists know how to communicate the weather story of the day in a way that the viewer understands and enjoys.
Finding a job as a Weathercaster
What is the best way to approach in finding a job? First, make connections with other meteorologists as well as news directors and other news staff. The broadcast industry is not much different than other businesses. Many times it is who you know and not what you know that will land you a job. This is especially true when several candidates have similar qualifications. Second, it may be a good idea to get an agent, especially after establishing yourself in your first job. Keep in mind that some agents will only take "the cream of the crop" and others will take anyone who applies. When starting out a career don't be discouraged if you are not picked up by an agency. Third, be wary of jobs posted on the mega job sites. Many times these jobs are already filled. News directors would prefer to go through an agency that has already prescreened candidates. They will then only have to make a choice between a few candidates as opposed to possibly 100 or more. Sometimes jobs are posted to the job boards essentially after a candidate has already been chosen to conform to EOE laws. Finally, when putting together a weathercast resume "reel", make sure your best stuff is in the first ten seconds. Many times there are many videos for a news director to look at and their attention must be caught quickly. A 30 second montage then a few complete weathercasts with interaction with the anchors is sufficient.
Another side point about this discussion concerning jobs; if you can do the job in a small market, you can do it in a large market. Your job may be actually easier in a large market because there are more resources at your disposal. The job function doesn't change if you move to a larger market, so don't be intimidated.
One other point to consider is working freelance to get your foot in the door. Even though a station may not want to hire someone full-time, they many need an extra person to help out with vacation or sickness coverage. It does mean that you will have to be available 24/7. It also will likely mean that you will work holidays, but this may be worth it to give you much needed experience.
Is it worth it?
A career as a TV meteorologist can be very exciting with the rapid changes and challenges of weather forecasting. Factor in your lifestyle when deciding on choosing this as a career. As mentioned above, work hours can be a source of significant stress. If you really want to give TV weathercasting a go, it is not a bad idea to add a second major or concentration of study in case you decide it is not the right field for you at a later time. Because there are now more schools offering meteorology as a field of study, there are fewer jobs than there are job seekers. This may make finding your dream TV meteorologist job difficult. Have a back up plan in mind.
This job also requires that you be able to take criticism. You will get criticized. You will be the source of jokes. Your viewers will criticize your wardrobe, hairstyle, things you say. Even your news director may criticize you from time to time. A quick note to the female meteorologists: It's not worth getting upset about being called the "weather lady / weather girl". Yes, you worked hard for your degree. We all did, but don't let that get under your skin. I have been criticized many times for all different types of things and certainly know how it feels. This job requires you to be strong and not let ugly comments get you off track of providing great weather information to benefit your viewers.
To wrap up, I suggest talking to a variety of TV meteorologists, not only those who "made it big", but others in smaller markets. By doing so you will get a more complete picture of this career. Finally, don't consider success in this business as making it in a big market or getting a large salary. Finding a station that likes you and pays well enough could be the best scenario for success and happiness as a TV meteorologist.
What it's like to work at the Weather Channel.
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