Have you ever wondered what it takes to forecast the weather? It is, after all, a bit like predicting the future, but with science.
When you think of people who predict the weather, you probably think of the forecaster you see on television. And while some meteorologists (weather scientists) work on television, there are lots of other jobs for kids interested in weather.
For example, many meteorologists work for the government, helping road crews and schools get ready for snow — and snow closings! Other meteorologists tell power companies how cold or hot it will be, so they can make sure there’s enough power to keep homes warm in the winter or cool in the summer.
Meteorologists also tell airplane pilots if the weather is safe to take off or land. And they tell farmers if the weather will be good for planting fruits and vegetables.
Not all meteorologists predict the weather. Some study the weather to learn more about how it works. Others build computers that help to predict the weather or how our climate (the average weather over many years) might change. Some meteorologists become teachers to help others understand weather and how it affects the world around us.
Meteorologists use a lot of math, science and computers. So it’s a good idea to work hard at these subjects if you’re interested in the weather. You’ll also want to learn good writing and speaking skills so that you can explain the weather to other people.
And you always need to be ready for the unexpected. No matter how hard we try to predict the weather, sometimes it surprises us. Then again, that’s what makes weather so much fun!
KidsPost asked some of Washington’s TV meteorologists what advice they have for kids who want to follow in their footsteps.
Doug Hill knows exactly when he became interested in the weather. “Lightning hit my house on my seventh birthday,” he said. “That’s when it started.”
Hill’s path to becoming a TV weather forecaster was different from most. He first was a police officer for Prince George’s County. “Then, one day, a light bulb went on inside my head. . . . I could do weather forecasting for a living!”
What he likes most about his job is “being on TV and radio when the weather is really, really bad and being able to tell everyone what is happening and why it is happening.”
Hill has a few ideas for those who want to learn more about the weather: “Learn the basics of how the weather works. Keep watching the sky. Keep logs and journals of the weather in your area. Maybe even get a basic weather station.”
Sue Palka’s interest in weather and science can be traced to her father, who was a science teacher. But she didn’t know she wanted to be a meteorologist until a TV station asked her to try out for a weather-forecasting job.
“I wanted to be a teacher,” Palka said. “I took a risk and decided to explore this career path. I was hired for the first weather job I applied for.”
Palka has flown into the eye of a hurricane and gone tornado chasing with scientists. What she likes most about her job is making the weather forecast enjoyable and easy to understand.
She has good advice for kids thinking about a career in weather forecasting.
“Observe the weather patterns and practice making your own forecast. Take a lot of science and math classes. But also become a person with interests beyond weather,” she said. “For example, try out for the school play or musical. Be a part of the world you live in, so you can better understand what people are thinking and feeling when it comes to the weather.”
Topper Shutt built his own weather station when he was 8 years old and started predicting the weather when he was 10. He got his first job forecasting weather on TV in 1981.
“I think I have always known deep down this is what I wanted to do,” Shutt said. “Trying to figure out the future state of the atmosphere is a blast!”
Shutt grew up in the Washington area and went to high school at the Landon School in Bethesda. In addition to his TV job, he also helped start a company that puts weather stations in schools, so kids can track and learn about the weather.
He says that kids interested in weather should “learn the science of meteorology and learn some computer programming but also remain well-rounded with varied interests.”
Bob Ryan says he can’t remember a time he wasn’t interested in the weather.
“I think that’s just the way I was born,” Ryan said. “I always loved watching the sky, especially those friendly puffy cumulus clouds on a warm spring day and imagining what animal or face they looked like.”
Before he started predicting weather on TV, Ryan worked as a scientist studying clouds. He likes how the weather is always changing, and he enjoys helping people plan their day.
He says kids should follow their dreams and work hard. “If you love what you do, it will be fun,” he said. “I’m lucky to have had a career in a field that was my hobby when I was in school.”
Doug Kammerer is the new kid on the Washington weather block: He joined NBC 4 in August 2010. But he isn’t new to the Washington area: He grew up in Northern Virginia, going to Herndon Middle School and Herndon High School.
Kammerer says he knew he wanted to be a meteorologist since he was about 8 years old. He says his favorite part is forecasting big storms.
“I love all kinds of weather — thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms,” he says. “I love them all.”
His advice to kids interested in weather is simple: “Learn as much as you can about it. Talk to those who are in the business. Contact your favorite weatherman and ask to check out the weather center. Try to forecast on your own — always a challenge, and always fun!”
Did you know The Washington Post has its own team of meteorologists called the Capital Weather Gang ? You can read the team’s forecasts and interesting weather stories at www.washingtonpost.com/capitalweathergang.