Thursday, February 10, 2011
Weatherperson's Spotlight: Kate Bilo
Kate joined AccuWeather after graduating from Penn State, not with a meteorology degree but with a degree in Spanish and International Business. The degree combination did pay off for her, though, in the weather biz. "After college, to pay the bills, I took a job at AccuWeather, who, at the time, was looking for a part-time Spanish language weather broadcaster," Kate recalls. "They trained me for the job and I absolutely loved it, and within weeks knew that this was the perfect job for me. I went back to school for my meteorology degree and, even though I wish I had pursued TV Weather from the get-go, I feel lucky to have found the perfect career for me at a relatively young age."
Kate didn't develop her passion for weather out of working at AccuWeather, however. She was fascinated by the weather growing up. "I remember making hourly charts of the measured snowfall during the Blizzard of '93," she stated. "I was out there constantly with my ruler."
So, who did Kate follow in the weather department while growing up?
"Growing up in the Philadelphia area, it was always Elliot Abrams on KYW Newsradio – I always had my alarm clock set for that station and it would wake me up with the weather forecast and listening, usually in vain, for 856 to be called for a snow day. Every night, going to sleep, I had the Weather Channel on and I remember some of their personalities, like Jeannetta Jones."
Kate, getting the morning shift, is typically awake before many of us. What's a typical day like for Kate?
"Alarm goes off at 2:30 AM and I usually hit snooze at least twice though! get to work around 3:15 am and start working on my forecast. I have Kathy Orr’s forecast from the night before to work with for continuity, and I usually start by looking at all the latest model runs, reading discussions from the NWS and NCEP, looking at soundings and thicknesses to predict the high and low temperatures. After I complete my forecast, I will often check some of the local blog sites like phillyweather.net, of course, and some weather forums to get different interpretations and check my thinking."
"After 4 AM I will go to the newsroom to brief producers on the weather, and if we have severe weather happening, we will make decisions on where to send reporters and the Mobile Weather Lab.
Our morning news begins at 4:30 AM and continues until 9 AM with the same team. We do Traffic and Weather together on the 3’s, so it’s a fast-moving marathon morning – weather hits every ten minutes with teases in between, and I also go back and forth to the radio booth to do records and call-ins for our sister stations in the CBS network."
She's not done after 9 AM either...
"Around 9:30 I attend a morning meeting where I update the newsroom about the latest weather information and then for the next few hours I work on my forecast, answer emails, connect with viewers via social media, or write and shoot weather-related packages. I then do the weather for Talk Philly at noon, and around 12:30-1:00 I head home, leaving my forecast and any updated graphics for the evening team."
So, does Kate prefer cold snaps or heat waves?
"I am a severe weather and thunderstorm junkie, so I will almost always choose warmth. I think it’s interesting that most meteorologists I’ve met definitely have a preference for warm-season weather or cold-season weather. Don’t get me wrong, I love forecasting snowstorms, but there’s something SO exciting about that late July day when you can FEEL the humidity rising, you can feel the southwest winds picking up as a cold front races toward the area."
The snowbirds hopefully aren't heartbroken by her preference for severe weather. Given the last couple of years, we've had a bit of everything in the weather world from severe weather to severe snow, so Kate will be happy dealing with it all. Of course, the weather here presents its own set of forecasting challenges, as we all know!
"The Philadelphia area is challenging because the weather is so variable," Kate points out. "We have so many different influences -- topographic variations from areas below sea level to the mountaintops in the Poconos, wind regimes that influence the daily forecast."
"For example, it’s easy to bust too cold on a downsloping west wind, that southeaast wind off the ocean leading to precip type challenges, the mesoscale winds off the Delaware bays, the potential for cold air damming, etc."
Very true...damn those cold air damming busts!
"We also have such a wide variety of weather – major coastal nor-easters, severe weather and tornadoes, hurricanes coming up the coast...there’s really never a lull for us here in the Delaware Valley. I think this time of year, February and March, is one of the most difficult times to forecast here in the city because you have that dichotomy between the warmer air trying to work in from the South, but you still get the brutal cold snaps to the North, and you’re dealing with a lot of crucial timing issues, rain/snow changeover issues, ice and freezing rain, etc."
What about the viewers, who get to experience this unique and odd mix of weather and the daily battle and dance of the elements? What do you like about them?
"It constantly amazes and impresses me that the viewers in this town are not only interested and intrigued by the weather, but amazingly KNOWLEDGEABLE about it. You definitely don’t have to dumb it down for Philadelphia viewers – they know how the weather works, they’ve lived with it their whole lives, and they have a genuine curiosity and desire to keep learning more."
We are a savvy bunch for the most part!
"I love the emails I get from viewers asking not just "how much snow for [insert town name here]”, but “Kate, why has the pattern this winter defied the normal La Nina pattern?” or "Kate, can you explain triple phasing to me?”. A true respect, interest and desire to learn more about the weather and how it works – that’s what I love about these viewers."
How much for Philly isn't just the only question that's asked...thankfully!
If Kate didn't end up in weather and eventually back home in Philadelphia, Kate would have probably pursued a career in television. "Well, I do love television and being a part of this business – I’m a pretty outgoing person and there’s something about being in front of a camera that lets me tap into that. I love to travel (and eat!) so I think if I wasn’t doing TV weather I’d love to travel around the world and host a show about it."
As for advice for future meteorologists, Kate suggests "Practice, practice, practice! And not just with the weather. Walk around your house explaining things in a clear, concise manner that viewers can understand. Practice enunciating your words and speaking clearly. Watch lots of TV meteorologists around the country and what you like about their style and what you don’t like – how they point and gesture to the wall, how they speak, how they explain. Everyone has their own style, so see what works for you. Familiarize yourself with the weather for a particular location, and practice explaining it in a way that someone without a meteorology degree can understand – you can know everything in the world about weather, but if people can’t understand what you’re telling them, it doesn’t matter."
How very, very true. Every market has their own Bala Cynwyd and Conshohocken for the out of towners to trip up on. Thanks for the time, Kate!