Every day, five days a week, viewers have tuned in to the same makeshift basement studio, catching their weekly weather forecast from two slightly different camera angles on two competing channels.
“Both of our stations had basically provided us with our own separate setups,” said Thompson-Gee, who delivers his morning forecast in front of a full-size green screen flanked by side monitors and studio lights. Barichello, whose shift begins with the midday news, stands in front of a 70-inch LCD monitor on the opposite side of the room.
“We each have our own completely separate stuff,” Barichello explained. “We share a clicker, we share a stool, and we actually only had one laptop in our house that we were using. We were able to get some other laptops.”
Both meteorologists broadcast live through specially equipped cellular backpacks that allow them to transmit their feeds back to the stations for rebroadcast over the airwaves.
“When we first started, we were both in our living room with our toddler’s toys everywhere, both using Skype,” Barichello recalled. “I’d move my chair to a different spot so it looked a little different” than Thompson-Gee’s shot.
Their schedules don’t usually overlap, so only one person is occupying the studio space at a time. Thompson-Gee is his station’s morning meteorologist, on air from 4:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.; Barichello works an 11 a.m., a noon, a 4 p.m. and a 5 p.m. show.
Last week, she filled in for a colleague, however, meaning that her first weather hit came at 9 a.m. — just after Thompson-Gee had wrapped up at 8:58 a.m.
Some on social media initially wondered what would happen if the two were forced to do “wall to wall” nonstop, live coverage during breaking severe-weather events.
“We haven’t [had that happen], mostly because in severe-weather situations, we still have clearance to go into our building,” said Thompson-Gee. “I think I’ve been in studio only five times since March, one morning [because] Internet was completely down. They’ll say in advance, ‘There’s a decent chance of severe weather, we should have you in studio.’ ”
Barichello, meanwhile, is the only person on her station’s weather team working from home. She has jumped in to help cover severe weather before, “mostly as backup.”
One of the wild cards of the couple’s adventure has been child care, namely looking after their daughter, Leah. The basement where the pair now broadcasts was once a playroom, and scattered toys still occupy the space between on-camera sets.
“She’s made a number of appearances,” said Thompson-Gee, chuckling. “There was a moment over the summer when I was in the basement already; she was playing with that little toy corn popper machine. She’s running by while I’m on air. ... There’s been some comedic moments, but I think a lot of viewers really enjoy that. Viewers … see a glimpse of [our] lives.”
Despite technically working for each other’s competition, Thompson-Gee and Barichello have found a synergy in working together.
“I like that Justin does the morning shift because he’s already forecasted, and if I’m in a tight spot and low on time, I can be, like, ‘Oh, what’s your high [temperature] today. What’re you thinking?’ ” Barichello said.
“It’s nice to have someone to bounce things off of,” he said. “It’s nice to stay up to date since we have someone else to watch whatever it is in case we didn’t see something.”
They do tease each other a bit, though.
“We do get a bit of competitive with forecasts,” joked Thompson-Gee. “I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I got the high today. I had 20, you had 22!′ ”
The two have been forecasting together for a long time. They met as undergraduates studying meteorology at Valparaiso University in Indiana, where they found themselves on the same storm-chase expedition roaming the Great Plains in hot pursuit of tornadoes during the early 2010s.
“I was a junior; she was a sophomore,” Thompson-Gee said.
“After the storm chase, we did start dating,” recalled Barichello. “Justin got a job in Minnesota, I finished up school, and I was lucky enough right out of school to move to South Dakota, which was only three hours away. We were able to maintain our relationship and see each other pretty frequently.”
Shortly thereafter, the two got engaged, then moved to Milwaukee within two weeks of being married.
“I was lucky enough to get hired by CBS 58 in Milwaukee a few months later,” Thompson-Gee said. “We’re really blessed to be together in the same city.”
The two meteorologists spoke highly of their news directors, who they say have been nothing but supportive amid the unusual situation.
“Both of our stations are very family-oriented,” Barichello said. “Our news directors and our [general managers] are always rooting for you. They’re very supportive if you have kids or day-care issues. ... I’ve felt my station has been very understanding of that. I think they understand how difficult it could be having two on-air talents looking [for work] in the same market. ... It’s been pretty nice.”
In the end, they treat their lives just like they treat the forecast — sometimes it’s tricky to predict, but that’s what makes it special.
“It’s such a fun, funny life,” Barichello said. “Every day, there’s something new. We take a step back and think, ‘We got through another day.’ ”