Here is a list of the top 10 most common first reactions when someone finds out I manipulate the weather. These might not be the same for every meteorologist, but I can guarantee you a meteorologist has heard at least 1 of these. I also know that many times these are jokes, but sometimes it gets serious and really grinds your gears. Without further adieu, here is the list:
10. The Old Finger Lick. My 91 year old grandfather (we call him Gramps) always asks how everything is going in the weather business when I see him. After I answer, he tells me to “hold on” as he winds up his finger, moistens his mouth, and licks his finger and sticks it up in the air. I love him to death because he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. I’ve had this happen as a first reaction to when I told someone I was a meteorologist. Wasn’t as in love. It’s not as easy as you think.
9. “What kind of degree do you get for that?” Although there are various degrees you can get if you want to become a broadcast meteorologist, there is a meteorology degree (usually involving more of the math/physics behind weather). This question is usually followed up by, “Do you just stand in front of a green screen all day/look at clouds?” Yes, that is all we do because we are in 1st grade when going to a reputable university. It involves at least 2 semesters of general physics, 4 semesters of calculus/differential equations, thermodynamics, dynamics, chemistry, cloud physics, radiation, synoptic meteorology, mesoscale meteorology, etc. 1st grade profession? I don’t think so.
8. “Oh, do you know (name of TV meteorologist)?” Although the meteorologist community is pretty tight knit (despite Twitter fights being common), I do not know who every meteorologist is. The chances of me knowing a certain meteorologist from Tulsa, Oklahoma is slim. If it is someone from back home in western PA or even in the DC region, chances are I have heard of them or have bothered them on Twitter. If it is Al Roker, I just say I don’t know him after what happened in the White House.
7. “Why do I need you when I can just look outside?” It’s pretty obvious isn’t it?Not according to that person I guess. Let’s see. We forecast for everyday people, energy, agriculture, ski resorts, NASCAR, the nation, the continent, the world, and a whole lot of other stuff. Long-term or short-term, our forecast is for the future mostly, not for when you stick your head out the window to find out that a hurricane has driven a board straight through your noggin.
6. “That’s so cool. I’ve always found (something about outer space) fascinating.” Sadly this question comes up more than I want it to. As much as I want to slam my head against the nearest blunt object, I keep my cool and give them the bad news. They usually feel a little stupid, but I suppose it is an understandable mistake with “meteor” in the word. However, “hydrometeors” are generally what we study.
5. “That’s so cool. I always wanted to be a weatherman/weathergirl as a kid.” This reaction is great because it reminds you of the kids who say they want to grow up and become a fireman or police officer. A weatherperson is a dream job for a lot of young kids. Some decide to take a different route (because of the intense schooling, pay, or schedule probably) and others like myself follow through. These folks also tend to pay more attention to what you say because that could have been them (good or bad).
4. “What are your thoughts on global warming/climate change?” This question comes up quite a bit with the growing popularity/concern over global warming. Although I’m not a climate scientist, I did take several classes in climate studies and probably know more than the average person in another profession. I actually enjoy these usually, before the mention of Al Gore, Bill Nye, and/or politics totally brings down the vibe…especially if it is Thanksgiving.
3. “So what’s the weather going to be like at/in (insert location [i.e. my house, Zimbabwe, etc.])?” You better be on your A game, because Grandma Edna will be disappointed if you don’t know what the weather will be like Friday at 11 AM for her renal care appointment. Although we usually do know generally how the weather will be for them, the worst is on vacation. My response then is, “I don’t know. I’m on vacation,” as I sit in my beach chair and dig my feet into the sand.
2. “Are you on TV?” In a close 2nd place is the popular question about being in the limelight. TV can also be interchangeable with The Weather Channel. If you are on television, you’ll have quite a bit to talk about. If you are not, the person’s interest either lessens or they become more curious. There’s either an, “It’s okay, someday you’ll be on,” or a, “What do you do then?” I usually think to myself, “No, I won’t be on TV. That’s not what I do.” If they ask the second question, then I am glad to talk about it for as long s they show interest. I’ve been asked this question enough where most times I say, “I’m a meteorologist, but I’m not on TV.”
and finally (drum roll, please)…
1. “It’s the only job you can be wrong (insert %/fraction) of the time and still be employed/get paid.” Definitely the most common response I have heard since becoming a meteorologist. Usually the percentage is greater than or equal to 50 or the fraction is a 1/2 or more. The fact of the matter is, there is usually some kind of quality control to keep us in line. If our forecast is better than climatology/models/”the system” more often than not, then we’re doing a good job. If you want us to get the forecast right 100% of the time for something that’s ever changing in a non-hydrostatic atmosphere, keep dreaming. If your percentage is 1%, I’ll take it as a compliment. If you are wrong 99% of the time, you probably will not have a job.