It’s still a solid hour before sunrise, with sub-zero wind chills, but nothing slows Penn State student Ryan Breton on his way to work in Walker Building on the west side of the University Park campus.
Breton makes his way to the building’s sixth floor -- home of the Joel N. Myers Weather Center -- and 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 by used by the “Centre County Report.”
Breton, a junior from Atkinson, New Hampshire, serves as president of the Campus Weather Service. He’s one of a group of meteorology students who produce forecasts for student-driven news broadcasts. It’s a partnership between the Department of Journalism and Department of Meteorology that provides hands-on, real-life experience for all involved.
“Centre 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 state on WPSU-TV.
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 (CentreCountyReport.com) and on CCR’s 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,” said Steve Kraycik, director of student television and online operations for the College of Communications. He worked closely with Marisa Ferger, a meteorologist with a strong resume of TV experience who produces Penn State’s respected “Weather World” while also serving as an instructor and mentor for students.
“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 air, but the partnership with ‘Centre County Report’ -- with its online and weekly TV components -- provides valuable experience for students pursuing that path,” Ferger said. “We’re happy to partner with the Department of Journalism, and happy to have the opportunities the partnership presents.”
For Breton and other students, the daily online forecast provides an all-encompassing one-person challenge. It begins with research and graphic production in a small office and then they walk down a flight of stairs to the building’s fifth floor where they produce and record the two- to three-minute forecast on their own. Finished pieces are submitted to “Centre County Report” for online use no later than 10 a.m. Monday through Friday.
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 -- in this case viewers online or on TV.
“In some ways the communication can be more difficult,” he said. “If you have an accurate forecast but don’t convey the impact correctly, it almost doesn’t matter. This collaboration is great, because it helps us get experience. There are other universities that have a communications program and a meteorology program but they do not work together. 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.”
In addition, Breton said Campus Weather Service, with its commitment to serving clients and preparing students, fills an important role by allowing students to hone their skills at any point during their academic career at Penn State. 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,” Breton said.