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Career of the Month

Meteorologist Maureen McCann

Meteorology is a branch of atmospheric science. It emphasizes the study of atmospheric chemistry and physics, with the aim of forecasting weather. Meteorologists work in government agencies, industrial firms, research and consulting companies, industry, utilities, radio and television stations, and educational institutions. Maureen McCann is a meteorologist at Spectrum News 13, a television station in Orlando, Florida. 

Work Overview

I work the morning shift, so I wake up at 1:30 a.m., and am usually at the station by 3 a.m. to start prepping my show, before going on the air live at 5 a.m. I love having my afternoons free, but my day comes to an end earlier than most, when I go to bed at 5 p.m.

I spend the first part of my shift looking over weather computer models, which are complex charts and graphs that simulate what the atmosphere may do, based on numeric weather observations that are entered into equations representing the physics of how the atmosphere works. I narrow down the model data into information that can help viewers plan their day, such as forecasting high temperatures and rain potential. This process also includes making my own graphics. Throughout the show, I take advantage of opportunities to explain the science behind phenomena such as the sea breeze, to empower viewers with better knowledge of what causes our weather. 

I need to be available to go to work earlier and stay later when active weather warrants, so every day can be different. My job never feels like work. Being able to turn a hobby into a career is quite rewarding, and it makes the unusual hours easier when you love what you do. I love being able to share my passion for weather and science with others through television and community outreach, such as doing school visits and giving station tours. On the other hand, weather is a 24/7/365 event. I have had to miss weddings, family celebrations, and vacations because of my work schedule. When others get to stay home from work and school due to a hurricane or snowstorm, I still work. 

Career Highlights 

Some highlights of my career have involved chasing storms. It can be dangerous, so it is best left to experienced professionals. But as a meteorologist who also loves road trips, storm chasing is my ideal vacation. A photographer and I traveled alongside the late Tim Samaras and his team from Colorado to Minnesota and back, while they were filming for the Discovery Channel and conducting valuable research on severe weather. I had a similar experience in Austin, covering the Vortex2 field research project. I loved being able to see severe weather up close, as opposed to in a textbook. 

Career Path

I attribute my interest in weather to growing up in New England. Hurricane Gloria was the most influential event. The tree in our front lawn fell over onto our neighbor’s car, which was a big deal for a four-year-old. Also, my parents always had the news on while we ate dinner, and weather was my favorite part. I wrote letters to that meteorologist while in elementary school, and he eventually invited me in for a tour. Meeting him and seeing the station confirmed that I wanted to work in that field someday. Throughout my childhood, I was always watching The Weather Channel and would tune into “A.M. Weather” on PBS before Sesame Street in the mornings. I also had a fear of thunderstorms, and thought I might be less scared if I was a meteorologist and was able to predict when they were coming.

Picking a college major was easy, because I was already set on meteorology. I was determined to go to Cornell University, because one of my favorite hometown meteorologists went there, and she was a role model to me. I first spent two years at nearby Ithaca College, focusing on communications and broadcasting while starting my meteorology coursework at Cornell. By my junior year, I was fully enrolled at Cornell but still participating in Ithaca College’s student-run newscast. This experience gave me the material to make the “resume tape” I needed to apply for my first broadcasting job. After graduation, I was hired by a station in Bangor, Maine. My career progressed through different markets, gaining experience with all types of weather in Syracuse, Austin, and Denver, before coming to Florida in 2013. Working in Florida led me to a new appreciation of the importance of hurricane preparedness, and this motivated me to pursue a master’s degree in emergency and crisis management.

MM in Studio

Knowledge, Skills and Training Needed

A solid background in math is essential, to help navigate the college curriculum that comes with being an atmospheric science or meteorology major. Much of my undergraduate schooling was calculus and physics-based, which provided the foundation for understanding how the atmosphere works, and the weather models we use to make forecasts. Strong writing and communication skills are also essential. Today, having a social media presence is important, so it’s good to be able to adapt to whatever new platforms come along. 

Internships are key to learning about the broadcast industry. They will provide you on-the-job training that you won’t get in a classroom, such as learning how to use the graphics computers. They also serve as short-term opportunities to help you figure out what you don’t want to do in your future career. 

Advice for Students

I had the opportunity to take classes at a local community college while still in high school, and that helped me get accustomed to the rigors of more advanced math. Even though the math can be challenging (it never came easy to me), don’t give up! I also encourage reaching out to your local stations via email or through their websites. Broadcast meteorologists are very accessible on social media. Ask questions and make connections. See if you can do a job shadow to get a feel for things. There also are tremendous resources within local chapters of professional societies like the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association.

Bonus points

McCann’s Education: B.S. in atmospheric science, Cornell University, Master’s in Emergency and Crisis Management, University of Central Florida

Website: https://www.ametsoc.org/, https://nwas.org/ 

Related careers: Science journalist, emergency manager geographic information systems analyst, science educator

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