Careers as a TV Meteorologist
How to become a TV weathercaster
The requirements and job duties a television meteorologist has 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 to convey their forecasts. Today high tech has taken over. Weathercasters now use computers to display glitzy 3-d graphics, dual-polarization Doppler radars to identify approaching storms, live video from storm chasers, social media, and tower cams to show the most current weather.
Studies / Schooling
There are many ways to become a television meteorologist. First, and probably most common, is by going to a college or university where you can obtain a meteorology or atmospheric science degree. Florida State University, University of Oklahoma and Penn State are a few of the better 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. Some may reconsider their career and then may take meteorology courses to be a weathercaster. Thirdly, a few people 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, possibly analyzing a current weather map, then checking the computer model forecasts. There are many 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 he believes 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 done.
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, visible comets, or meteor showers. The public relates astronomy to weather since it is viewed in the sky.
As the newscast starts, the weathercaster may be on the set with the news team. He 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 two to three minutes. They may have several "mini-weather updates" or teases that last from a few seconds to a half a minute. It will vary depending on what the news producer wants to do with the newscast. In severe weather situations, the meteorologist may be on for much longer stretches of time and work many hours.
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 using Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, Youtube and other media. 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 meteorologists type their forecasts into a closed caption system. This is done to help with the hearing impared audience.
Salaries can 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 higher 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 cites 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 three meteorologists on average to cover the newscasts during the week. The chief meteorologist is the head of the team. He is the highest paid. The morning and 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, it is important to note that some TV stations have possibly four or even five meteorologists on staff. The extra weathercasters may help with vacation relief or have other responsibilities. Smaller 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 stations 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 how popular their on-air personalities are. 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 $500,000 or considerably more. The morning and noon meteorologist make about $150,000 - $200,000 and the weekend meteorologist about $50,000 - 100,000. Keep in mind that most meteorologists don't make anything close to these salaries. As a comparison, the chief meteorologist can make about $65,000 - $90,000 around market 100, and less than $20,000 in market 200. In TV cable, weathercasters make a wide margin as well - from the range of less than $50,000 to well over $250,000 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 can 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. This fact is true throughout the business world, but much more so 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 just 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 little thought of 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. 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.
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 you dream job difficult. Have a back up plan in mind.
What it's like to work at the Weather Channel.
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