Sunday, February 05, 2012

Weatherperson's Spotlight: Jen Carfagno

Jen Carfagno provides forecasts for more than just Philadelphia in her job as an on-camera meteorologist at The Weather Channel.  However, you probably did not know that Jen is a native of the Delaware Valley.  Yep, she’s from the mean streets of Collegeville (I jest when I say that by the way…I’ve driven through Collegeville probably 6,000 times and haven’t seen anyone or anything remotely resembling “mean”) and a graduate of Perkiomen Valley High School and Penn State University.

Jen’s interest in meteorology, unlike many who witness some big time snowstorm or some tornado blasting through their hood, was kindled through the combination of watching local weather forecasts growing up, as well as her teachers at PVHS.

“Many budding meteorologists are inspired by seeing a tornado first-hand or witness the ferocity of a hurricane,” Carfagno explains.  “I just really was into the everyday weather.”

“I watched the local Philly weathercasts and The Weather Channel and figured out that low pressure meant lousy weather and high pressure meant it would be a pool day in the summer.  When hail, snow, or sleet fell from the sky, I grabbed my weather books to figure out how it was happening.”

She also really liked math.   “And my calculus teacher, Mr. Flango, at Perkiomen Valley High School, had a bulletin board of careers that use a lot of mathematics.  Meteorologist was one of them.  My homeroom teacher, Mr. Bannister, was a pilot (also an interest of mine!).  He shared his aviation books with me, and I realized how much meteorology that a pilot needs to learn.”

Jen watched the various locals on TV as well as on The Weather Channel.   Citing Dave Roberts, Herb Clarke, and Hurricane Schwartz, Jen also includes Dave Frankel among those who had an influence in her path towards meteorology. 

“I have to say, even though he wasn’t a meteorologist, I loved Dave Frankel’s presentation style.  I’ve always been a big fan of the country music scene, and loved how Dave Frankel wore a cowboy hat in the snow!”

She also watched The Weather Channel and watched Jim Cantore and Mark Mancuso, the self described “Italian Power Hour”.   I wasn’t the only one who remembered this tag team phrase!

Jen primarily works weekday and weekend mornings, getting up at an earlier-than-allowed by most laws time of 2:24 AM.   Yep, that exact.  She provides forecasts on camera on “Weekend View” and then fills in during “Your Weather Today” and “Wake Up With Al”, or provides special segments as needed.  Before going on camera at 6 or 7 AM (earlier on the weekdays), she spends her pre-show time reading up on the day’s weather, stacking graphics together for presentation on air, and looking for weather-related news stories to feature on air.   After her shifts are done at 11, she researches story ideas for the next day. 

Technology also plays a major, major role in her day, both at and outside of work.
“Because of technology… I never really stop reading email or looking for story ideas unless I’m sleeping or with my kids,” Carfagno notes.

How about TWC’s use of social media?

“I think Twitter and Facebook are both very useful in weather forecasting, verification, and information sharing.  Facebook provides a great venue to interact with viewers and build a relationship.”

“Twitter is invaluable to me.  I use TweetDeck, and view tweets via column lists of Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South, Midwest, and Western weather tweeters.  Sometimes it is information overload, but more often than not it provides a quick overview of top weather stories happening across the country.  This is invaluable when you are a national forecaster trying to be local everyone across the country.”

It’s not just us in Philadelphia who like an “in my backyard” forecast, it seems.

One of the things that Jen notes about technology, however, is that forecasting has become more a science in recent years.

“In the short term, the model forecast has improved and is available with much more precision and local detail.  But local idiosyncrasies are still there, and now, because of technology, more people expect the forecast to be more specific at a more local level.”

“Also, now that the operation model forecasts look farther into the future, you really have to look at them keeping in mind the teleconnections and other global trends that will influence the accuracy of the long term trend.”

If she were to “go to war” (my words) with any one computer model, she prefers the GFS over the Euro, but acknowledges that “I know the European is a favorite this year, but I feel most comfortable with the GFS and when it performs well and doesn’t.”

 “It is just as important to know when a model will be off as to when it will be on.  But the GFS is a decent model on a larger scale, and as a national broadcast meteorologist, my focus is usually pretty broad.”

Jen is a fan of warmer weather, citing thinner blood since moving south as the reason, and stated her ideal day feature temperatures of 80, with dew points just below 50, a common trait in early Fall in Atlanta.  Those types of days are perfect for running, which is one of Jen’s hobbies.   Other hobbies for her include learning Bridge, creating digital photo albums, and yard work.  She’s also a big time country music fan.

Regarding aspiring meteorologists, she provides the following advice:  “Start by keeping a weather journal each day.  I did this, and it helped me learn the cloud types,plus associate which clouds bring what kind of weather.  Keep notes on if a front is approaching or high pressure is in control.  Weather information is so easily available via the internet… I suggest looking at a US radar, satellite, and current weather map every day.  The best forecasters often just have the most experience.”