Today is National Weatherperson’s Day, so to celebrate we caught up with Fox News Channel’s senior meteorologist Janice Dean. The Canadian-born Dean has been fascinated with weather since an early age and is extremely passionate about educating the next generation on all-things weather. Dean’s career began as a radio host but her passion for weather ended up sending her back to school to pursue broadcast meteorology.
TVNewser: New Yorkers were disappointed by the lack of snow during the predicted blizzard last week. Why did so many meteorologists get it wrong?
Dean: You mentioned New Yorkers in your question. Yes, the storm was off for New York, but it was pretty darn accurate for New England. I had people thanking me the next morning for the lack of snow in their neighborhood and others blasting me saying the next time they won’t believe our forecast. This can be a tough business. I’ll start off by saying I would rather people be prepared for the worst and having nothing happen rather than downplaying a storm and people being caught off guard and in danger. Having said that, the storm was close to 1,000 miles wide. The track was about 35 miles east of where we thought it would be. By forecasting standards, that’s actually not a bad prediction, but because it “spared” NYC, it’s the big blizzard BUST of 2015.
TVNewser: You’ve covered major storms such as Hurricanes Sandy, Irene, Earl and Katrina. Is there one particular moment when you literally couldn’t believe what you were witnessing?
Dean: I have to say Hurricane Katrina was the biggest weather event I’ve ever forecasted or witnessed. We might not ever see a hurricane like that again in my lifetime. I remember reading that “doomsday statement” saying this would be the worst case scenario for New Orleans. I read that warning on air in front of the green screen while the satellite of the storm swirled behind me and just had this overwhelming feeling of dread. And then I remember the next day when we all thought New Orleans had dodged a bullet. They even had that as a headlines on the local newspapers the next day “we dodged a bullet”… And then the levees broke.
TVNewser: You started as a morning show host on radio, how did you get involved with weather?
Dean: I studied journalism, as well as radio television broadcasting in College back home in Canada, but my interest in weather goes back to being a kid when we had snow piled up to our rooftops during the big Canadian winters. I remember thinking I wanted to find out why events like this happen and watching the forecasters trying to warn people. I was a local weather presenter right out of college on the CBC while I was a radio host, and did that part time. Back then, you could do the weather without having the meteorology background. When I was hired at Fox to be their daytime weather person, I decided it was time to go back to school and take the classes and study the science.
TVNewser: Punxsutawney Phil recently predicted six more weeks of winter, but most people have no idea whether Groundhog Day actually impacts the weather. Is there anything scientific to this cultural event?
Dean: Really? People actually believe the groundhog? Well this winter forecast was a no-brainer. I think I read that Phil’s predictions are about 44 percent accurate which is less than a coin toss. I also read recently that 50 percent of Pennsylvanians would rather be represented by a groundhog in congress. So what does that tell you? Look, if it gets kids interested in weather and science, I’m all for hyping up the groundhog. Groundhog Day goes down as being one of my favorite movies of all time.
TVNewser: So, how are you celebrating National Weatherperson’s Day?
Dean: I’m going to be reading my book Freddy the Frogcaster and the Big Blizzard to some school kids out on Long Island. I try to do that at least 3 or 4 times a month. That’s my favorite part of being a meteorologist – going out and teaching kids about weather. You just never know when you might inspire someone to learn a little more about the amazing thing that can start up a conversation, affects our moods, dictate what we wear or what our weekend plans might be. The weather is something we all share. Everyone should celebrate the weather.