My name is Ted McInerney, I’m a meteorologist at WMTW News 8, in Maine. I’m a broadcast meteorologist that takes in weather information, analyzes it for the states of Maine and New Hampshire. I have to take that weather information every three hours, every hour technically with the updates, and put it into a weather story that will be understandable to the lay person in a clear and easy way and how it affects them. When a big storm comes in, we’re looking at a lot of raw data and a lot of information that a lot of people don’t know how to look at it. So you have to break it down and put it into a graphical representation, graphical artistry was far from my specialty at first. You have to make graphics that are clear and easy for a, let’s say, a fifth grader will understand and how it will affect them.
Every Thursday, a photographer and I, during the morning show, report the weather outside of a school, and once school starts, I go into classrooms and give a virtual tour of the station, and depending on the grade level, we talk about cloud classifications, the water cycle, and answer their questions.
When I do these Thursday presentations at schools all across Maine, they ask me how I do my job. I talk about how all the weather instruments get plugged into a computer model and that computer model has an algorithm that outputs results, and there’s multiple models that I have to analyze. I realize that I go over their heads so I have to take a step back and explain to them one by one what each instrument is and what it does.
In the world of weather, there’s a lot you have to do with social media. Everyone wants to know about the big hurricane, the big snowstorm, and the amount of rain. There’s a lot of people that have interest in weather and maybe looked up some information on the internet. A lot of this information is outputted onto maps and publicly available on the internet; the problem is can you analyze it? Can you understand that one computer model is just a guidance model, it’s not a forecast? There’s a lot of garbage floating around on the internet and social media. It’s tough because it gets passed around the internet and shared and people think that there’s going to be forty feet of snow coming or a hurricane is going to come off the coast of Africa and head straight to New York City just because there’s one model where that happened. So it’s one of my jobs to make sure that we put science information in a responsible manner.
What inspired you to become a meteorologist?
I actually loved maps, looking at an atlas and a globe, and just learning about new places, and what better way to see maps on TV but the Weather Channel. Then I started to realize that the weather is what’s happening right now, it’s always the latest thing going on, there’s always something about weather going on, there’s always a cool storm going on, so I literally just started looking out my window when a storm came in, I looked at the radar, where the map was, and started to track it. In my fifth grade year, I had a chart and I charted all of the hurricanes coming across the Atlantic. So, I kind of put the two and two together.
Where did you undergraduate school and what coursework played a role in what you do now?
I went SUNY-Buffalo State College and I got a degree in physical geography with a focus on the atmosphere. I had an advisor, Dr. Stephen Vermette, and he was really passionate about weather and he was trying to start up a meteorology section of the department. I had that interest of weather from beforehand and I got sucked in with his intro to meteorology class. Just doing the forecast labs, deeper into the major, where I was literally doing the job I’m doing now, but doing it for a grade. This was written forecast discussions, looking up the information and writing up a forecast, not so much delivering it on TV.
I did a job shadow with the Channel 2 meteorologist in Buffalo. His name is Chesley McNeil, he’s down in Atlanta now. He opened my eyes to the fact that I could do TV meteorology if I wanted to with the science I knew, and I thought, “I could break science down in an easy way that people can understand and have fun with it.”
The students ask me, “Why do I want to do weather on TV?” I was always the one who wanted to be the first to tell people that a storm was coming. I remember there was a point in college, nobody in college on the weekends was focused on academics or at least not their nerdy hobby, and there was this line of really strong thunderstorms right along a cold front coming through, 11 o’clock on a Friday night, and I was tracking the radar on my computer, and when I knew it came close, I ran out with my digital camera and took pictures of it as it blew through. It was amazing to see the rain and the wind and the lightning. When I came back into the dorm, I had a floormate who said, “It’s really cool that you’re so passionate about what you do,” and it kind of dawned on me that meteorology was the right thing.
Who were some of the mentors you had and what was some of the advice they imparted upon you?
Dr. Stephen Vermette got me really passionate about doing the science. There was a lot of math involved and that’s what scared me away from meteorology in high school, and he got me excited to the point that I was not worried about the math. That was an important part to get me over the hump, I was getting into the meat of meteorology.
I told you about Chesley McNeil already. My hometown meteorologist Steve Caporizzo in Albany helped me greatly the summer after college put together the on-air work, perfecting the craft, not being “too” scientific on TV or at least translating the science into television appropriate. Just getting comfortable on air, a lot of it’s like theatrical work, you’re just so awkward and green and you don’t sound polished and you’re nervous. It takes time to work out the kinks.
Those people started me off getting in, but really the chief meteorologists in my first two jobs, Andy McCray in Rock Island, Illinois, WHBF, and then when I went to Birmingham, Mark Prater, they got me more confident and taught me the ways of being on TV, what viewers cared about, what management cared about.
If you could change anything in your career path, what would you do differently the second time around?
When I did want to do weather on TV, TV is, at first, unrewarding, you have to move to a small town to start off, you don’t get paid well at all. You’re low on the totem pole so you have to work holidays and weekends. You have to move away from family and friends, and to even get that job is tough. Then when you get it, it’s not the nicest work environment because everyone is underpaid and overworked.
Going back, I don’t think I realized quite what I was getting into, that it wasn’t going to be easy to make all of the sacrifices.
One of the meteorologists when I first got into this told me, “When you start your first job, you’re going to have to get some suits and protect your suits like they’re your livelihood, because you’re going to get paid close to the poverty line and it’s not going to be fun, but if you really love weather, you can do it.”
Not coming from one of the bigger meteorology schools and not having a communication degree for the broadcast side of things, I was on an uphill climb, but somehow with my determination, I made it.
I didn’t know what I was getting into, if I did, maybe I wouldn’t have needed as much determination to get where I am and wouldn’t be as confident as I am now. Looking back in retrospect, I guess I wouldn’t change a thing.
What advice would you give to students or early career professionals that might make it easier for them transition in their careers?
Do as many internships as possible and take advantage of them. Don’t just look at it as the job you want to do, but the jobs around them. I’m not a news anchor, I’m not a sports reporter, I’m not a photographer, but all of that was involved. You can improve your job by looking at the jobs around you, whether it’s in TV or in meteorologist. If you don’t know about social media and you’re going into meteorology, whether you’re on television or not, you’re not understanding the science and where it’s moving. If you don’t look around at other people and talk to them about what they’re doing and where they’re going, those in your internship, your classmates, your coworkers, you’re not going to take it all in.