Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Weatherperson's Spotlight: Caitlin Roth

Caitlin Roth was recently hired by Fox 29 as their weekend meteorologist, having just started this part Friday!   She isn’t a stranger to the Philadelphia region though; she’s a native of suburban Bucks County.  Caitlin comes to the Philadelphia by way of Omaha, where she worked for three years.
Caitlin first got interested in meteorology thanks to the Blizzard of ’96.  “Growing up in Bucks County, the momentous Blizzard of ’96 sparked my interest in Northeast snowstorms,” Roth recalls.   “I was an avid viewer of The Weather Channel and chronicled local weather patterns for my high school graduation project.  It was a pretty obvious choice to pursue meteorology in college.”

Caitlin graduated from Penn State with a degree in meteorology and was employed for a time at Accuweather in State College.

Growing up, she remembered watching a number of TWC meteorologists, most notably Jim Cantore, Marshall Seese, and Heather Tesch.   Oh, and the “cycles and cycles of ‘Local on the 8’s’” as she put it.   It also helped that her father was a weather junkie as well.

Caitlin’s day is pretty standard for a meteorologist.   Data, graphics, and looking at lots of information is a starting point.

“I always check the current weather and morning models, before arriving at work early afternoon. From there, it’s forecasting through a methodology that is mostly based on the forecasted sounding and the sensible weather derived from it.  I have everyday models that I depend on for the seven day forecast and a few other ones that come in handy depending on the season, upcoming event, or current pattern.”

I asked about which model she relies on more than the others.

“That is such a hard question.  I’d have to go with the ensembles, which average out a variety of models, so you can assume the forecast wouldn’t be too far off!  In my opinion, the short-range ensembles do consistently well with snow forecasts, so it’s not a bad place to start.”

Of course, relying on computer modeling has increased over the years.  Caitlin takes a balanced approach on the use of all computer modeling, not just utilizing the ensembles.

“Like most meteorologists, I rely on the models every day.  Nowadays, there are so many to choose from and in so many formats in can be overwhelming.  I’m not sure if it’s made meteorology less of a science, since they are essential to view.  However, it’s so important to know the limits of models.  What are the model biases?  What will it tend to overdo or underdo in each season?  What is just flat out not going to happen due to other climatological factors, even though the model is hinting at it?  Using these limits and having a variety of forecasting tools will help eliminate the “live and die by the models” problem.”

Knowing those model biases definitely comes in handy but there are times where even the models may struggle to pick up what’s going to fall from the sky.  Caitlin recalls a couple of difficult forecasts from her time in Omaha earlier this winter.

“My most difficult are easier to remember and would have to be light snow/mix events.  They are sometimes harder to deal with than big snowstorms, since it’s very hard to tell the level of impact from an inch or two of snow or slush.  It can be huge or very minor depending on timing, road temperatures, current weather, etc. Earlier this winter, we had a couple such events in Omaha, where the line of demarcation between snow and rain was right over the metro.  Unlike Philadelphia, that is not usually the case there.  It ended up having major impact, since it occurred early on in the season and right before the evening drive.  Luckily, I prepared for just that situation.”

Of course, we deal with these mix-type events around here pretty frequently…so is forecasting for Philadelphia going to be tougher than forecasting for Omaha?

“Every area of the country has its own unique challenges, so I don’t think forecasting for the Delaware Valley is any easier or harder than the Great Plains.  Omaha has dramatic severe weather that you likely won’t see in the Mid-Atlantic.”

Having lived in Minneapolis for 25 years and getting the jokes of the Twin Cities being a “cold Omaha” there is truth to this.

“However, the storms that ride up the East coast have more moisture and tend to bring heavier snows, rains, and flooding to the Philadelphia region.  The cold fronts from Canada bring Omaha more brutal cold and wind, but Philly has a much more complex terrain with mountains and the ocean.  Not to mention hurricanes.  Either way I’m excited to experience all of the variety the Philly area provides!”

Caitlin has experience in forecasting and putting up with severe weather, having been in Omaha for a few years.  She talked about having had success predicting it, which will come in handy for those few severe weather events we ultimately get later on this summer.   Ideally, her favorite and arguably most successful forecasts are “a four week stretch of tranquil early fall weather, with sunshine and high temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s.  When this beautiful weather occurs meteorologists are told we’re the best!”

Had Caitlin not gone into meteorology, she would have probably studied English as it was her best and favorite subject in school.   She’s also an avid reader outside of work, also enjoying travelling, hiking, and biking.  Somewhere in between, she likes to sleep in and chill out.

As for advice for future meteorologists, Caitlin offers us this advice.

“Everyone says having strong math skills is very important if you want to study meteorology.  That’s true.  However, if you’re like me, whose best subject was not math, I would say don’t let that deter you and don’t give up.  The meteorology program is very rigorous, but work hard and stick with it. It will be so worth it in the end!   Also, if you aspire to be on TV, watch as many different personalities as possible.  Each on-air meteorologist has their own style and each one you can learn from.  Take journalism and broadcasting classes too, since you will be part of a news organization.  Being involved in public speaking classes, theater, and voice lessons all help, since you’ll be talking for a living. Internships are a great way to learn and there are many of us in the business, who would love to share advice. Good luck!”

Welcome back to Philly, Caitlin, and good luck to you!