There is a difference between the titles "weatherman" and "meteorologist," and it's largely based on education and training.
According to the American Meteorology Society, a meteorologist "is a person working in the field of meteorology that has gained a sufficient amount of coursework in meteorology (without a B.S. degree, three years full-time experience is required). This coursework does not have to be calculus based and includes several key meteorology and geoscience courses." Those courses revolve around astronomy, geography and geology.
Students also learn about satellite imagery interpretation, doppler radar, severe weather, tropical weather, cloud physics, climatology and forecasting. Most meteorologists pursue continuing education by attending weather conferences and seminars and keeping up with the latest research and resources for computer models that forecast weather.
Much of this training is available through a standard undergraduate science degree with a graduate degree in meteorology. Another option is through Mississippi State University's broadcast meteorology program. This off-campus, non-degree program offers the courses required by the AMS to be classified as a meteorologist, including synoptic meteorology I, water resources, thermodynamics and oceanography. More details can be found at www.ametsoc.org/AMS/amscert/approv.html#SectIA.
Thanks to the training, a meteorologist is able to make a professional forecast based on computerized weather information and scientific analysis.
A "weatherman," on the other hand, primarily reads the weather forecast from the wire.
Most Rogue Valley weather forecasts are presented by accredited meteorologists, but it wasn't always this way.
"In the olden days, doing weather on TV was an afterthought," says Scott Lewis, chief meteorologist at KDRV-TV in Medford. "Then it became an opportunity to provide some entertainment during a newscast to break up the doom and gloom."
Back then, news directors weren't very choosy about who read the "weather bureau" (as the National Weather Service was then called) forecast, leading to the "wacky weather guy" and the "weather bimbo."
But as ratings indicated that many viewers were turning on the news primarily to watch the weather segment, the presenter's value skyrocketed. Weather readers were — and still are — carefully groomed to attract a certain demographic. In some markets, that means hiring a meteorologist — someone who is a specialist in the processes in the Earth's atmosphere that create weather conditions. In other markets, a pretty face or funny turn of phrase might be more valuable.
"In L.A., entertainment is more important than a degree in meteorology," says Lewis. "Cities with severe weather insist upon qualified people providing them with their weather information."
NewsWatch12 has three full-time meteorologists on staff, says Lewis. A self-professed "science geek," Lewis first earned a liberal arts degree with a major in journalism and a science minor; he then went on to study weather, worked with the National Weather Service as a student and gained professional accreditation from the National Weather Association and the American Meteorological Society.
"It was thrilling when I was first called a meteorologist," he remembers. "Of those who apply, a fair number fail in earning the on-air 'seals of approval.' These are only awarded after academic prerequisites are met, meteorological knowledge tested, and on-air presentations evaluated then approved by a panel of peers. It's actually tough to achieve, and only a minority of people doing TV weather have them."
Andrea Rich and Milt Radford of NewsWatch12 also have qualified for both seals.
Kevin Lollis, chief meteorologist at KTVL Channel 10 in Medford, started in television as a producer and worked in the sales office for years before being asked to read the weather on a morning news show. Although he agreed right off the bat, he went on to pursue training in broadcast meteorology through Mississippi State University "because I wanted to know what I was talking about and of course wanted to forecast as accurately as I can," says Lollis.
Calculus, physics and math classes helped Lollis understand the online computer forecasting models used by most meteorologists and aid him in generating the computer graphics used for the news show.
Never offended when he's called a "weatherman" instead of a meteorologist, Lollis just tries to get his forecasts right.
"But in the end when you're talking about the weather, it's still a crapshoot," he says. "I like to think it's about 87 percent accurate."