Video: UW’s new broadcast meteorology course is the first on the West Coast


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January 30, 2020

The University of Washington has long had one of the nation’s top atmospheric science programs. Now, UW is also teaching undergraduates how to share this knowledge online and on television as a broadcast meteorologist.

The Media and Meteorology course, launched in the winter term, is open to students from across the university who are taking or have successfully completed a prerequisite introductory atmospheric science course.

UW junior Sara Salimi practices giving the weather forecast while junior Matthew Charchenko checks the weather charts. Salimi looks towards one of the three screens which show the weather graphics which will be overlaid on the green screen. UW’s new “Broadcast Lounge” features a green screen, cameras and The Weather Company’s Max system for professional weather graphics.Dennis Wise / University of Washington

“We’ve been talking about this idea for a few years now, and it’s exciting to launch this course,” said lead instructor Shannon O’Donnell, chief forecaster at KOMO-TV. O’Donnell graduated from UW with a degree in atmospheric science.

In the new class, students will learn to communicate weather information in a number of ways, including the use of a ‘green screen’ – a bright green screen that forecasters stand in front of while talking and gesturing, with maps and graphics added digitally.

“It’s surprisingly difficult to work in front of the weather wall,” said O’Donnell. “It’s kind of like a funhouse mirror where things feel awkward and backwards. You see the green behind you, then you have TV screens to the side. You have to look at the monitor to see the graphics.

While some stations have moved to large digital screens, many newsrooms prefer the green screen because it offers higher resolution graphics.

“The reason we always go out of our way is because it always looks a lot sharper on TV,” O’Donnell said.

For journalists:

Video and photos available for download

The course also covers the history of audiovisual journalism and offers presentation exercises on TV, radio and online. Follow student predictions on Twitter at @TheUWDawgcast.

“Communicating weather information is important for societal decision making,” said co-instructor Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric sciences at UW. “The range of communication options for weather information – television, online and social media, smartphones and more – has changed dramatically over the past two decades, and students need to learn to master their various tools. “

Mass has a popular weather blog which received 450,000 hits during the recent January snowstorm, and a weekly radio segment on KNKX. Her book, “The Weather of the Pacific Northwest,” is on the class reading list.

two people in front of the green screen

Professor Cliff Mass and meteorologist Shannon O’Donnell in UW’s new “Broadcast Lounge” on the sixth floor of the Atmospheric Sciences-Geophysics building. They co-teach UW’s new undergraduate class, “Media and Meteorology”.Dennis Wise / University of Washington

The three-credit course will include hands-on experience and discussion of tools such as weather blogs, Twitter, and weather-related Facebook groups. Students will also visit the KOMO-TV newsroom and the National Weather Service office in Seattle.

“Broadcasting has become more than just television,” said O’Donnell. “Social media has become a huge medium for delivering weather information and is more popular than ever. Today, the National Weather Service also communicates directly with the public, and these accounts often have very large subscribers. “

For many years, KOMO has offered an internship in which students, mostly from UW, learned the ropes in the weather office. O’Donnell and Scott Sistek, web meteorologist at KOMO and a UW graduate, mentor students presenting forecasts and writing blog posts. The new course will provide an educational base for students and others interested in exploring the field of weather broadcasting and communication.

“I think the weather is something that has remained interesting for people because it has such an impact on people’s lives,” said O’Donnell.

The UW class joins the meteorology education disseminated at schools such as Pennsylvania State University and Mississippi State University. The instructors also hope to launch a summer offering that would be accessible to journalism students at Washington State University and other schools.

For more information, contact O’Donnell at [email protected] and Mass at [email protected]

Tag (s): Cliff Mass • College of the Environment • Department of Atmospheric Sciences • weather


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