I asked my co-workers at EDN to suggest a topic for this week”s column. Leave it to columnist Sandy Harris to hit the nail on the head. Here is her idea. When did I get interested in weather and what is it that draws me to it? The detailed explanation of exactly how I got into the weather forecasting business would take up a lot more space and time then I have here, so I’ll give you the condensed version.
I remember as a child enjoying lying down in the grass looking up at the sky trying to decide what the clouds looked like. Could it be an elephant, a face, or maybe a mountain? Believe it or not I started out as a biology major in pre-med in college. My plan from day-one in high school was to become a doctor. After three years of college i realized that I wasn’t getting the grades necessary for admission to a medical school. So with the advice of the dean of the college I planned to take a year off from school and use that time to decide if medicine was what I really wanted.
I had been working part-time during the school year and full time in the summer as an orderly in a small inner-city hospital in Rochester, New York where I grew up. The Hematology Department is where I worked, drawing blood from patients. And examining blood smears under the microscope. The hospital had a small Urinalysis Department which was a one person operation. People from Hematology would rotate operating that lab until they offered the job to me full-time. A specimen came to my attention because of the name of the patient.
Ferdinand J. Smith III was in the hospital to have his tonsils removed. We went to the same high school and he was a year ahead of me. I hadn’t seen him for years, but he was happy to talk with me and we talked about a commercial that was running on the radio station he was working for. It was for “Career Academy Division of Famous Broadcasters School. They had schools located in 12 cities across the country. I asked him if they were a legitimate school and he said yes. Ferdie, as everyone called him back then, started in radio when we were in high school. He worked for the smallest station in town. At this meeting he was working for the number one radio station in Rochester, New York, was composing music, and was co-managing a local rock band called the “Rustix”. Ferdie won many awards for debating and extemporaneous speaking while in high school. I was in the debate club, but I never got to debate because I had to leave after school to go home and deliver the afternoon newspaper. He was not sure I needed to go to a broadcasting school until I told him I never debated. A broadcasting school could teach me how to be a radio disk jockey. I completed the course in 1969 and got my first job in radio in June of that year.
My first job radio was in Geneva, New York then I moved on to a better job in Endicot, New York. My third job in radio was at a radio/TV station. The person I replaced was the afternoon DJ and also did the weather at 11pm on their TV station. I had a science background, but really didn’t know a lot about how the weather worked and how to present it on TV. The person who was the evening weatherman gave me some pointers and I was on my way. I became very interested in learning more about the science of weather forecasting. My next job was in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where I was the main weathercaster and was also a general assignment reporter. No classes were available in Eau Claire, so with the help of the head of the meteorology department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison I started studying on my own.
Here’s a look at me in Memphis, TN (1986) As I moved around the country getting better and better TV jobs I also started taking college classes in geography and meteorology. I finally tied all of those courses together for a degree in Broadcast Meteorology at Memphis State University which is now called the University of Memphis in Tennessee. Having lived all over the country I have experienced first hand, along with my wife, just about all of the natural disasters that are possible with the exception of a Tsunami since we’ve never lived at the shore.
What has kept me in meteorology all of these years is that it is never boring. Forecasting the weather is a lot like being a detective. You have many clues, the weather data, and it is a real challenge add them all up and produce an accurate forecast. The performance on TV was the icing on the cake because I had the chance to help the viewers better understand the workings of the weather systems. My DJ career lasted for over 4 years before I delved into the TV world. My TV weather career lasted for a wonderful 37 years and now I am using my skills to prepare forecasts for EDN and radio weathercasts for KKNX Radio here in Eugene. I don’t think that most people understand that TV Meteorologists, and almost all weather forecasters for that matter, take their forecasts home with them. We are constantly checking how right or wrong our forecasts were and any clues that could help make a better forecast the next time. Often we blame ourselves for “missing” the target forecast, but the weather can take a turn that nobody, not even the computers, can anticipate.
When you are considered a “broadcasting celebrity” it means everyone knows what you said and if you were right or wrong. They even made a movie “The Weather Man” showing how the public picked on their local weatherman. In the real world I felt that I have a lot of friends who appreciate what I do and are very comfortable telling me what they like and don’t like about my forecasts and the the weather outside now. I think it is cool to have so many people all over the country think of me as a trusted friend. Oh yes, there are some who will be mad that the weather didn’t turn out to be what they wanted even if my prediction was correct. I’ve known some broadcasters who think they are special and deserve special treatment. Sorry, but that’s not me. I work to hard to do my best and appreciate the people who enjoy my work. Without them I wouldn’t have a job. I even keep taking pictures of the sky conditions so we can show them to you. If you, or someone you know has an interest in making weather their career please have them get in touch with me and we can discuss the kinds of jobs that are available for meteorologists.
Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].