Turning a Passion into a Career

It is the middle of the night in the heart of the winter season along the eastern United States. A young, red-headed Katherine Thompson stands inside her home, gazing outside her bedroom window in awe of the accumulation of ice that was occurring. It was at this moment she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“From that point on, I think I was just fascinated with weather, and the variety of weather you could have,” said Katherine Thompson, the young girl in our scene, who is currently the Chief Meteorologist for WVVA news located in Bluefield, West Virginia.

Her passion for weather began when she was younger as she was always interested in weather phenomena as described in the above ice storm, along with hurricane impacts that affected her community of Piedmont, North Carolina.

“Hurricane Fran came through in the 1990s, when I was really little, and that put a big imprint on me too, as far as weather goes,”

Katherine Thompson

So, while her friends were watching cartoons and playing princess, Katherine was watching The Weather Channel and placing stickers on her walls, pretending they were towns to give her teddy bears the daily forecasts. Her passion then grew into the pursuit of a career. She lists other reasons why she chose to become a meteorologist:

“I always liked being in front of the camera talking to people, I like weather, and I went to school for it.”

Katherine Thompson

After graduating from high school, Katherine attended North Carolina State University, which has is very well known for their accreditation in sciences and engineering, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Meteorology. During her four years at NC State, she participated in many internships that allowed her to gain connections and experience to increase her chances at a job once she officially graduated from college. She says that this was a crucial part into her success and becoming where she is today.

“The most important part of what did to get where I am today was internships after college and at local stations,” Thompson said. These internships allowed her to apply for and be hired on at WVVA, where she began as a morning and noon meteorologist. After getting a few years of experience under her belt and her growing love for the area, she was offered and accepted the position as Chief Meteorologist at the station. Katherine has won awards throughout her career, including the Two Virginias AP Broadcasters Award for Best Weathercaster in 2018, and the West Virginia Broadcasters Association Award for Best Weathercaster in 2019.

Katherine loves forecasting all weather. From the sunny, dry summer days to the dark, cold and snowy days that encompass West Virginia winters. While she does love it all, she claims that winter weather is her favorite to try and forecast due to the “uncertainty” of the weather and the fact that it is the “hardest to forecast.” She loves the adrenaline rush that comes with following these storms, and while they are difficult, she also learns the most during them.

Along with forecasting the weather, she also really enjoys the social aspects of the career. These aspects involve getting out in the community, participating in speaking engagements at schools, encouraging young children to be involved in science, changing the future, and overall being the “dependable person in weather” both throughout the station and in the local viewer communities. She also says that she, “likes relating weather to different other scientific topics.” While she already has her degree, she is continually learning and enjoys sharing her knowledge on weather-related topics with others. Therefore, WVVA’s “Here For You” motto is a perfect fit for her.

Katherine feels that the field of meteorology is one that is important, and often overlooked. Many throughout the community do not even realize the implications that can occur from not knowing what the weather will be like or even take for granted having access to it right at our fingertips.

“Weather impacts us every day, all day. We couldn’t plan anything or do anything on any day without knowing the weather,”

Katherine Thompson

Along with being part of our everyday routines, weather is important because of the lives that are at stake, and the need for safety in these areas. “We want to assess situations before they happen and know what we can do about them.” By doing this, Thompson and her team strive to ensure that her viewers are well informed and safe.

Day-to-day, the job of a meteorologist can change. Therefore, she must be flexible and available to do what is need. It all is of course, dependent on the weather activity. On calm days, Katherine starts her shift at 2 p.m. where she begins with looking at as much meteorological data as she can. She looks at models, winds, pressures, temperatures, and even the previous forecasts that the morning meteorologist composed.

After gathering the data and jotting down a few notes, she then transfers and packs all of the data she can into the graphics systems, which is where the magic happens. During this process, she condenses her information to the key points, and places them into the graphics which is what we see during her broadcast. After getting her information in order, she then does her hair and makeup, gets mic’d up and ready for the show.

Throughout her day, she must also filter in recording show teases, radio hits, newspaper graphics, and update the web, social media pages, and the mobile app. It is clear that being a broadcast meteorologist involves more behind the scenes work that occurs while the cameras are off, and on severe weather days, this work is intensified.

While Katherine does love her job, she also notes that being on camera is never easy. With the increasing numbers of viewers and social media platforms, the amount of negativity found throughout her daily life is sometimes overwhelming. However, she combats this by having developed a thick skin, ignoring the hate, and humbly explaining reasoning if there is somehow a mishap or wrong forecast.

She gives great advice that can be applied to any job setting and the daily lives of everyone.

“Don’t let people you don’t know make you feel personally bad. Don’t let them have that power over you.”

Katherine Thompson

While that is difficult sometimes, Katherine admits it does get easier. What does not get easier, however, is the response to the “weather girl” references that occur so frequently. It is not always intentional, but often times when a female meteorologist is referred to as a “weather girl,” there is negative connotation implied.

“You are not just a face,” says Katherine, “It’s a lot more than that.” She continues to say that she wishes the term would be done away with and that people would stick with Meteorologist, instead. After all, that is the degree that is earned so diligently.

Overall, being a Broadcast Meteorologist is not just standing in front of a camera, reading off of a screen, and relaying that information to the viewers. The career involves sacrificing time, effort, and energy into understanding and studying weather phenomena that will impact communities and lives. Katherine Thompson is just one of the many amazing women that work within this field, and we cannot thank her enough for ensuring the safety of her viewers, family, and coworkers alike.

by Alexis Bolen

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