The storm kings

By TIM LEHNERT  |  November 28, 2007

CREDENTIALED: Ghiorse, a veteran of the local weather wars, ushered in the trend of weather
people with actual degrees in their field.

The weather gets professional
Ghiorse, who has worked in the field for more than 40 years, says that when he in¬terviewed at WJAR in 1968, nonprofessionals were the norm. “I had to convince them to hire a meteorologist, namely me,” he laughs. Ghiorse, who has a Harvard chemistry degree and studied meteorology at Penn State, was an Air Force meteorologist before taking a job at a Hartford broad¬casting outlet and then signing on at Channel 10.
WJAR soon trumpeted how its weather report came from an actual meteorologist, not just someone reading National Weather Service summaries. The other local channels followed suit, and most stations in mid- and large-sized markets across the country now employ credentialed meteorologists. A meteorology degree, not to mention seals from the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association, have become standard for TV weathercasters.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that weathercasters are expected to be upbeat, outgoing types, part scientist, folksy authority, and local celebrity. “So much of local television news is personality,” notes Northeastern’s Schroeder.
In recent years, dueling technology has also been injected into the local TV weather wars. The battle seems particularly breathless between WJAR, the traditional ratings leader in Rhode Island, and its closest competitor, WPRI. Channel 10’s VIPIR (Volumetric Imaging and Processing of Integrated Radar), for example, is touted by its distributor as “the world’s most advanced 3D weather system for broadcasters.” Channel 12, meanwhile, in introducing its Pinpoint Doppler, called it, “The most powerful cutting-edge technology available to meteorologists anywhere.”
(By contrast, recalls Ghiorse, “I had three large maps tacked to the wall,” in his studio set-up in the 1960s, “and I’d walk from one to the other.” He also used magnetic letters, and the camera would zoom in as he pointed to satellite photos.)
These days, weathercasters are skilled in computer graphics, deploying a veritable storm of maps, models, and images during a three-minute weather segment. The sophistication of the contemporary bells and whistles seems a bit extreme, given how most viewers just want a sense of whether it’s going to rain or snow.
Yet meteorologists are also important ambassadors for their stations, and they frequently glad-hand at schools and other venues. “A big part of the job is getting out into the community,” says Channel 12’s Muscatello, one of only two female meteorologists in the Providence market (Channel 10’s Kelly Bates is the other). Having meteorologists talk with third-graders or Rotarians about Rhode Island’s climate helps to extend a station’s brand, cementing connections with viewers.
Weather and climate are lifelong passions for most TV weathercasters. Long before he hit the local airwaves in 1987, Tony Petrarca, Channel 12’s chief meteorologist, was a weather buff, tracking storms from his Warwick bedroom as a grade-schooler. He hung maps on his wall, and plotted blizzards based on data mined from newspapers and television weathercasts. “It was very rude and crude,” admits Petrarca, who went on to obtain a degree in meteorology from Vermont’s Lyndon State College, the alma mater of several local meteorologists.
Jason Shafer, an assistant professor of meteorology at Lyndon State, says of his students, “They’re weather weenies at heart.” Meteorology students are typically drawn to climate extremes. “They want to be storm-chasers,” says Shafer, “or they like severe weather.” Meteorology is a popular degree program at the small school. About one third of the meteorology students there are in the broadcast option, which supplements courses on calculus and cold fronts with instruction on how to act in front of a camera.

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