Let’s face it — there are few jobs as “cool” as being a television meteorologist. (Disclaimer: I might be a bit biased.) The friendly faces you see on the TV aren’t just meteorologists; they have to do it all. They’re teachers, broadcasters, graphic designers, station scientists and a whole lot more. Suffice to say they wear many hats.
But have you ever wondered what your favorite forecaster is like behind the scenes? Meteorologists aren’t the “nerds” that some folks envision — or maybe some are (LOL). Regardless, many have some impressive or unusual hobbies — oftentimes that tie into weather.
Check out our list of seven of the coolest TV meteorologists out there and see if your home town favorite made the list.
Adam Caskey — San Antonio
D.C. natives may recognize the former WJLA personality, who now calls San Antonio home.
What makes him so well-known in the broadcast meteorology sector? He makes his own thermometers. Every “Thermometer Thursday,” KSAT, his current employer, features a story package on his endeavor to manufacture and calibrate his own gorgeous alcohol thermometers.
He’s been doing this for years; local businesses have pitched in equipment, contests are run to win an Adam Caskey thermometer, and he even now works with woodworkers to make custom-shaped backings. His Christmas ornament thermometers are legendary.
Last year, he attended the American Meteorological Society’s 44th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology in Austin, sporting a lab coat and safety glasses, and wielding a blow torch. He delivered a hilarious and deeply informative presentation to attendees on the finer points of thermometer-making, and even recruited volunteers to work on their glass-blowing technique.
Caskey sometimes uses his thermometers to bring levity to difficult situations. “The ‘Rubble to Relic’ initiative I did took storm damage and made thermometers out of it for the homeowners that endured the February EF-2 tornado that struck San Antonio,” he wrote. “The storm hit just north of downtown. I used all sorts of materials … oak chunks, flooring, and fenceposts.”
His thermometers command high prices at charity auctions — sometimes over $1,000 — while more than 10,000 people enter his station’s raffle each week to win one of the prized possessions.
In his words, making the thermometers is a “labor of love,” and he uses them to spread happiness and good in the world. That’s one “cool” side gig!
A.J. Fox — Fresno, Calif.
A.J. Fox is the chief meteorologist at KSEE in the California Central Valley. Born in Anchorage, his family relocated to Southern California, where he attended Fresno State as an undergraduate. But it wasn’t weather he learned first — it was music.
His bachelor’s is in music education, where he focused specifically on the flamenco guitar. In 1989 at the age of 19, he landed his first broadcasting job at a radio station in Fresno, where he soon transitioned into reporting traffic. From there he hopped over to delivering traffic reports at the local NBC affiliate, and when a sick call came in one night from the meteorologist, he realized he had found his calling.
Fox has obtained advanced degrees in meteorology, geosciences and mass communications, and has been the chief at KSEE for eight years.
But remember that music degree? Fox also plays guitar in two bands. His work is even on iTunes. One of the bands is known as Los Hooligans. “We play originals in the traditional Jamaican ska style,” said Fox. “We’ve shared the stage with huge bands like the Wailers, the Skatalites and No Doubt.” His other band is called Fat Penguin.
If you can’t find Fox forecasting or strumming his guitar on stage (or during his station’s commercial breaks), odds are he’s either teaching a weather-climate course at Fresno City College or snowmobiling in the Sierra Nevada with his family.
It’s hard to believe there are enough hours in the day for that. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like during the commercials at your local station, as Fox has shown, you may just be surprised.
Irene Sans — Orlando
Irene Sans is a multimedia meteorologist at WFTV in Orlando. She’s bilingual and keeps viewers abreast of crucial weather information in both English and Spanish. She was critical in disseminating breaking information to people in Florida concerned with loved ones from Puerto Rico during Maria’s recent onslaught. When she’s not tracking hurricanes, she’s often keeping an eye on the radar. After all, the Florida monsoon can lead to sneaky and rapidly evolving conditions.
Sans’s mission to make weather information available and accessible to all groups is powerful. “It is crucial to serve Spanish-speaking residents with truthful, science-based and reliable weather forecasts,” she said. She added how important it is for emergency management to do so, as well. “Ultimately, it saves lives.”
But what makes Sans one of our coolest TV meteorologists of 2017? At the end of her shift each day, she meticulously reviews hours’ worth of time-lapse footage, on the lookout for anything interesting. And she’s developed a sharp eye; the results speak for themselves. Just last summer, she caught a waterspout dancing across a lake that otherwise would have gone unreported. Her work is important in documenting severe weather and keeping track of events as they unfold.
Over the years, she’s captured many breathtaking scenes. “Tower cams give you a unique perspective that many don’t have,” said Sans. “I’ve caught interesting time-lapses and phenomena streaming through remote cameras; a sun dog, rainbows, incredible sea breeze collisions and even a waterspout.”
Sans notes how much information can be gleaned just from taking the time to observe current conditions. Her advice to us is simple: “Look up!”
Dan Satterfield — Salisbury, Md.
Regardless of where you’re from, odds are that your local TV meteorologist has learned a thing or two from this meteorologist. Satterfield has covered it all in his nearly four-decade career — tornadoes in Oklahoma, hurricanes in Florida, the “Storm of the Century” in Alabama, and most recently, an exceptional season for severe weather in the Mid-Atlantic. Satterfield is now the well-known chief meteorologist at WBOC in Salisbury, Md.
But Satterfield’s expertise in the field of science extends far beyond the reaches of synoptic forecasting. He’s worked tirelessly with several other meteorologists to spearhead the “station scientist program,” a mission designed to integrate science of all branches into newscasts and TV weathercasts. His goal is to increase scientific literacy, which he works toward both on air and on his blog for the American Geophysical Union. After all, Satterfield acknowledges that most television forecasters are the only scientists that most viewers encounter each day.
Satterfield practices what he preaches and exhibits a passion and love for what he does that has taken him across the world. He has traveled across the United States, trekked across Europe, shivered in Greenland, ridden out 50-plus winds at the South Pole, and just a few months ago enjoyed his first total solar eclipse from Alliance, Neb. Can your local TV meteorologists say they’ve been to both the Arctic and Antarctic?
“What surprised me most visiting the top and bottom of the world is something one would never guess: the quiet,” Satterfield said of his Antarctic excursion. “Imagine going somewhere and sitting down for two hours and hearing no human-based noises. You will be surprised how hard it is.”
His philosophy on life is simple: “Never stop learning.” He gets excited to go to work, because for him, it’s an opportunity to understand something new. “I have the best job in the world,” he said.
Amber Sullins — Phoenix
Amber Sullins is the chief meteorologist at KNXV in Phoenix. Regionally, she’s known as a climate guru, routinely educating viewers on the impacts of climate change during her weeknight forecasts. Ordinarily, climate science is a delicate subject and challenging for many folks to talk about, but Sullins manages it elegantly and on a personal, local level.
She teamed up with climatologists and graphic designers at ClimateCentral.org, a nonprofit geared to making quality information more accessible to the public. The trick to having an open dialogue, said Sullins, is to deliver the data without waving the “climate flag” or invoking politics.
“The key is to speak their language,” she said. “Keep it simple so everyone watching can easily understand and address what they care about most; how it could impact their family, their pocketbooks and their day-to-day way of life.”
For Sullins, it’s all about making climate information relatable. She wants to offer a perspective that is compelling to her viewers.
“Is it ‘normal’ to have 30 days topping 110 degrees in Phoenix a year?” she said. “No! But, that could be our new normal in the years ahead.” The issue is pressing, and she makes sure her viewers understand why.
Of course, not everyone takes too kindly to her weather whisperings. After all, there are still some people who don’t believe in the moon landing, are convinced the earth is flat, and doubt the veracity of climate science. (And it seems we all encounter one of these folks at Thanksgiving every year.) But Sullins handles these situations with eloquence and compassion.
“I have a sign hanging my house that reads, ‘Be kind, Speak truth, Love others, Show grace, Work hard, Be grateful.’ These are the things I try to focus on every day,” she said, “and that includes how I talk about climate change.”
With an outlook and a mission like that, it’s no surprise she made this list.
Mike Wankum — Boston
Mike Wankum is a meteorologist at WCVB in Boston. He’s well known for walking viewers through some of the best — and worst — of New England’s wild weather. From the deadly June 1, 2011, tornadoes to the “Blizzard Blitz” of 2015, Wankum is a seasoned veteran of forecasting in the Northeast.
Known as a hardy New Englander, he grew up on a farm in Iowa. It’s this that Wankum credits for sparking his fascination with weather at an early age. “On the farm is where I learned to appreciate the weather,” he recalled.
Farm life definitely had its challenges. “If it didn’t rain, we didn’t eat,” he said. To Wankum and his family, weather was everything. Once, a tornado destroyed part of their barn; on more than one occasion, large hail stripped crops bare, while the harsh winters could whip drifts of snow several feet tall. Learning to forecast the weather wasn’t just a hobby for Wankum. For his family, keeping an eye to the sky was a necessity.
Among one of Wankum’s favorite elements of living on a farm was having the advantage of lots of land — enough for him and his brothers to ride dirt bikes. Wankum has taken a shine to motorcycles, and over the years learned all the maintenance. He spends his weekends racing competitively, and you’d better believe the weather plays a role. Track conditions, temperature and wind all play a role in how the bike handles. Talk about a cool hobby!
Kevin Williams — Rochester, N.Y.
Anyone in Upstate New York knows Kevin Williams; he’s been a meteorologist in Rochester, N.Y., longer than anyone else in town. Graduating from Cornell in 1981, Williams worked not only at the local NBC affiliate for many years, but also developed his own meteorological consulting firm known as Weather-Track Inc. He’s also known for having a weather-related tie for any forecast.
Williams is an expert on all things snow; after all, his market averages more than 100 inches per season. But back in 2000, winter arrived a bit early in his neighborhood.
“I learned of a Boston-based company that sells home snow makers,” recalled Williams. “I knew right away that I had to have one.”
Soon enough, the artificial snow was piling up in Williams’s backyard, towering to some 15 feet high. Understandably, neighbors had thought he had “lost his mind,” but he quickly became the talk of the town — and his backyard a popular destination for the locals.
But is this a conflict of interest for Williams? After all, he’s both predicting the weather and controlling it. Once, he even created a miniature blizzard by accident — right smack dab in his neighbor’s driveway. According to Williams, “the wind had shifted.”