Where are all my ladies at?

Today at 12 p.m., Northrop Grumman is hosting a special online Google Hangout, Women of Weather. Among the all-star female cast, the event will feature prominent on-camera meteorologists like The Weather Channel’s Maria LaRosa and Good Morning America’s Ginger Zee, as well as representatives from the National Weather Service, Courtney Draggon and Robyn Heffernan.


Women in Weather hangout participants. From left to right: Laura Delgado Lopez, moderator of the hangout; Rebecca Miller, operations meteorologist for Southwest Airlines; Courtney Draggon, National Weather Service; Ginger Zee, chief meteorologist for ABC News; Maria LaRosa, The Weather Channel; Robyn Heffernan, National Weather Service; Jenny Hibbert, meteorologist for FugroGEOS. (Northrop Grumman)

We encourage you to join the hangout today for a smart, open, and honest discussion on what it’s like to be woman in the world of weather, including work force issues, opportunities, challenges, and successes.


Maria LaRosa in Boston covering Winter Storm Linus. (The Weather Channel)

According to the Department of Commerce, women hold just 25 percent of the jobs in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). That number gets even lower when talking about atmospheric sciences in particular, where, according to the National Science Foundation, only 14 percent of professionals in the field are female!

Being a woman in weather has its obvious challenges. For the on camera meteorologists it’s no secret we’re all familiar with the “short skirts and tight tops” comments, and in this age of social media people can be absolutely unforgiving when it comes to scrutinizing the physical appearance of those in front of the camera. Talk about needing tough skin!

Other challenges include being in the minority in our field. Even in the professional workforce there are instances of exclusion or disrespect simply based on our gender. Finally, and this goes for both men and women meteorologists, but in a career that almost requires us to be “on-call” 24/7 (the weather never sleeps, right?) this profession can be very hard on family and home life.


Vivian Brown showing an aspiring meteorologist how to work the green screen. (The Weather Company)

With all of that said do you have a female role model in the world of meteorology? They are all around us. Whether you turn on the TV in the morning, noon, or at night we see our on-camera meteorologists working 24/7, 365 days a year giving you the forecast. You know them: The Weather Channel’s Maria LaRosa, Jen Carfagno, Stephanie Abrams and Vivian Brown, GMA’s Ginger Zee, NBC LA’s Crystal Egger. You also have your stellar local TV meteorologists like our very own Jacqui Jeras and Sue Palka.

We also have females leading the charge in high level positions in NOAA. Take Laura Furgione for instance, the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Weather Services and National Weather Service Deputy Director. Dr. Kathryn Sullivan was just confirmed by the Senate as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. Did I mention she was also an astronaut?


Laura Furgione (Source: NOAA)

Perhaps some of the most accessible role models are the ones we find in the classroom. Look to your science teachers, college professors, and even your peers who have the same interest or passions! And who could forget Hollywood? Helen Hunt played a fearless Jo Harding in the 1996 blockbuster Twister. A storm chaser committed to saving lives, her mission was to improve the science of tornado warnings.

Admittedly, Helen Hunt’s character in Twister was my very first role model. I ditched “Matilda” and snuck into the theater showing Twister instead. I grew up watching Vivian Brown on The Weather Channel, and now am lucky enough to call her a colleague.


Dr. Kathryn Sullivan (Source: NASA)

While in college, I volunteered at the NWS Blacksburg alongside Anita Silverman, the only female forecaster at that office. Today, I have the privilege of working with the amazing women of The Weather Channel — Maria LaRosa, Jen Carfagno, Jennifer Delgado, Stephanie Abrams, and the list goes on. Not only do they teach me something new each day, but they are constantly encouraging and motivating me to be a better meteorologist. The best role models in the business!

Finally, I’ll leave you with one more personal anecdote to bring the story full circle. While I gravitate to the fellow women in my field to be some of my strongest role models, I have plenty of male examples to admire as well! During my very first storm chase trip with the Hokie Storm Chasers I was one of only three females on a team of twelve. My van was named, “the man van + Kathryn,” and I loved every second of it.


Storm chasers watch a tornado near Faith, S.D., on May 24, 2010. (Hokie Storm Chasers)

So tune in to the “Women of Weather” Google Hangout at 12 p.m. to hear the personal stories of some truly amazing female meteorologists in the field, the ones paving the way for those of us following in their footsteps.

If you are a female interested in meteorology, don’t let the male-dominated field discourage you, but instead let it inspire you! Reach out to your role models for advice and encouragement, and follow your passion.

I would also love to hear your stories and aspirations. Are you, your daughter, granddaughter, your sister, etc. aspiring to become meteorologists? What are your challenges? Even better, share any successes! Most importantly, who are your role models?

Girl power!