Weather on the Air

A partnership between Meteorology and Journalism provides students with hands-on experience broadcasting their weather forecasts through the "Centre County Report."

It's still a solid hour before sunrise with sub-zero wind chills, but nothing slows Penn State Meteorology student Ryan Breton on his way to work in Walking Building on the west side of the University Park campus, where a partnership with the Department of Journalism has him receiving hands-on experience in broadcasting. 

On the building's sixth floor—home of the Joel N. Myers Weather Center—Breton starts reviewing weather information from a variety of sources. He's on deadline, working with industry standard computer software to produce on-screen graphics and maps, getting ready to compile a daily video forecast to be used by the "Centre County Report." 

Three students sit in a small office in front of computer screens with weather forecasts and graphics.

Campus Weather Service Office

The Campus Weather Service office is where students do the weather forecasting and develop television graphics for the broadcast. "If anyone graduates and goes into television, and they've been through Campus Weather Service, they are going to be a pro at making graphics," says Meteorology student Ryan Breton, pictured in the foreground.

Image: Michelle Bixby

Campus Weather Service

Breton, a junior from Atkinson, New Hampshire, serves as president of the Campus Weather Service (CWS)—a group of students dedicated to providing free weather forecasts and severe weather alerts to Pennsylvania radio stations, the student newspaper, and C-NET. 

On top of the normal rigors of college, CWS students—about 100 strong—spend their days mapping and sharing our forecast. They can deliver breaking news and even report live from locations around State College when the weather gets dicey. 

"I'd say for a university program, this is about as close to the real thing as you can get," says Breton. 

Weekly student newscast the "Centre County Report" has been honored as the nation's best two years in a row.

For a meteorologist, that means when the weather gets bad, things get busy. And this winter was busy—cold and piling snow gripped much of the eastern United States for long stretches. So it wasn't unusual for Breton to be in the office at 10 p.m. on a Saturday ahead of an expected snowstorm in central Pennsylvania. 

Even with winter weather winding down, it's not time to relax for CWS. Forecasters meet three times a day to create and update the latest weather maps. And there's a broadcasting component, too. 

Cross-college Partnership

Breton is one of a group of Meteorology students who produce forecasts for student-driven news broadcasts. It's a partnership between the Department of Journalism—in the College of Communications—and the Department of Meteorology—in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences—that provides hands-on, real-life experience for all involved. 

In the background, a student stands in front of a green screen. The foreground shows a TV screen with the final projected image.

Weather Center Television Studio

Campus Weather Service (CWS) President Ryan Breton records a video forecast in front of a green screen. CWS members involved in broadcasting have access to this television studio, complete with green screen and news desk, for real hands-on experience.

Image: Michelle Bixby

"Center County Report," the weekly student newscast that has been honored as the nation's best two years in a row, has used student weather anchors for several years. The half-hour TV newscast appears on Campus Cable at the University Park campus and reaches more than three dozen counties in Pennsylvania and New York on WPSU-TV. 

"There is no substitute for experience, for putting together forecasts and presenting them on air. We're happy to partner with the Department of Journalism and happy to have the opportunities the partnership presents."—Marisa Ferger, instructor in Meteorology

After success of the weekly forecasts, the partnership between the academic departments was expanded this academic year to include daily forecasts that can be found online at CentreCountyReport.com and on associated social media channels. 

"We believe that expanding the forecasts to daily updates gives more meteorology students real-world experience and exposure. At the same time, it provides 'Centre County Report' with local content from the nation's best meteorology school," says Steve Kraycik, director of student television and online operations for the College of Communications. 

A Meteorology student sits in front of a monitor in the control room of the television studio.

Weather Center Control Room

Ryan Breton sits in front of a monitor in the television studio's control room, where the two- to three-minute forecasts are produced. Finished pieces are submitted to the "Centre County Report" for online use no later than 10 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Image: Michelle Bixby

Marisa Ferger, a meteorologist who produces Penn State's respected "Weather World" and an instructor and mentor, adds, "There is no substitute for experience, for putting together forecasts and presenting them on air. Not all of our students want to, or will, end up on the air, but the partnership with 'Centre County Report' provides valuable experience for students pursuing that path. We're happy to partner with the Department of Journalism and happy to have the opportunities the partnership presents." 

Breton appreciates the multifaceted challenges of weather communication, from putting together a correct forecast to presenting it in a manner that resonates with end users. 

"This collaboration is great, because it helps us get experience. It's great that we're making it happen. We get experience on air and the broadcasts get someone who has a forecast based in science, rather than just reading the weather."—Ryan Breton

"In some ways the communication can be more difficult. If you have an accurate forecast but don't convey the impact correctly, it almost doesn't matter," says Breton. "This collaboration is great, because it helps us get experience. It's great that we're making it happen. We get experience on air and the broadcasts get someone who has a forecast based in science, rather than just reading the weather." 

The CWS' commitment to serving clients and preparing students fill an important role by allowing students to hone their skills at any point during their academic career, says Breton. And the collaboration between departments has only enhanced that approach. At its inception, about a dozen students took turns producing online forecasts or getting their turn on the TV show. That group had grown to more than 20 students at the start of the spring semester. 

"People realize it's a great opportunity and want to make the most of it," says Breton.

Feature based on stories by Matt Carroll and Steve Sampsell. 

About the Department of Meteorology

The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' Department of Meteorology is world renowned for its expertise in meteorology, atmospheric chemistry, atmospheric physics, and climate science. Undergraduate students may pursue bachelor's degrees with one of five different options tailored to their interests and career opportunities. 

The department boasts the largest completely student-run Campus Weather Service in the nation along with state-of-the-art facilities including the Joel N. Myers Weather Center as well as laboratories to study air precipitation, air quality, and much more.