There are few people you’ll meet who are as passionate about the work that they do as meteorologists are about the weather. It’s a passion deep within their souls and more times than not, there was some instance of awakening or realization that started the journey to learning about and tracking the weather around us.
For me, it was no different. I grew up on the coast of Florida and was affected by four hurricanes in a 2-month period during what was the very active 2004 hurricane season. I was 12 at the time and since that moment, I knew I wanted to be a meteorologist.
Meteorology casts a wide net over the private, public and broadcast sectors but no matter the discipline, there’s often a common denominator — something happened that made a meteorologist become a meteorologist which usually comes with an interesting story.
Since Denver and Colorado have some of the most interesting weather around, we knew the local meteorologists in town would have some fun stories to tell about their most memorable storms and how they got into a career of weather.
Chris Spears spent a lot of time with his grandparents growing up and his grandparents spent a lot of time watching the Weather Channel. At some point Spears started to pretend to do the weather in front of the TV and eventually, he began writing letters to the on-air personalities back in the day and still has letters from one of the original on-camera meteorologists, Gay Dawson.
Most memorable storm? Since 2014, Spears has been teaching at MSU Denver and has a notable history of tracking Colorado storms but what sticks out the most are the floods of 2013 and the blizzard of 2003. Leading to his favorite type of weather to forecast: a snowstorm.
Advice for future meteorologists from Spears: Never give up on a childhood dream and always keep several irons in the fire. It makes you more marketable to have a wide variety of skills and interests.
Sometimes when you know, you know. You know? Brendan Heberton, and everyone around him, knew that he would end up doing some kind of work with meteorology. There’s no one weather event that led Heberton to pursue a career in meteorology, it’s more the fact that growing up in Colorado and being surrounded by some of the most interesting weather in the world, is what kept him intrigued. For Heberton though, it’s always been the winter storms that keep him fascinated more than anything.
Most memorable storm? Though Heberton has been in Colorado for over 30 years, the past blizzard of March 2021 ranks high on the list of most memorable storms. The floods of 2013, Christmas blizzards of 2006-2007, and the “bomb” cyclone from a few years back all come in as top contenders as well. Snow is Heberton’s favorite weather to forecast but he jokingly mentioned that it’s also his least favorite.
Advice for future meteorologists from Heberton: Study! Network. If you live along the Front Range take advantage of the fact we have so much talent and research in atmospheric science and meteorology right in your backyard. Get engaged, stay humble, and understand early on that predicting the future is hard.
Mike Nelson knew he wanted to be a meteorologist since age 7. He loved to watch hail, rain, wind and snowstorms growing up. Over the more than four decades that Nelson has been a meteorologist, he has always been extra fascinated by severe thunderstorms. The sheer power of them, not the destruction, are inspiring and have earned his respect.
Most memorable storm? The October blizzard of 1997, the March 2003 blizzard, the Windsor tornado, the floods of September 2013 and more recently, the blizzard of March 2021 are Nelson’s most memorable weather events since he’s lived here.
Advice for future meteorologists from Nelson: Although the weather is a challenging thing to try to predict, love the challenge and know that I still enjoy my job even after nearly 45 years. We do not get every forecast right, but we try to provide information that will be useful for the audience — and once in a while, life-saving!
Bowen was always interested in the sciences, but it wasn’t until she was a sophomore in college that a bug got into her ear about the weather. That, along with the Air Force offering her a scholarship to college if she agreed to be a weather officer upon completion of her degree, is what ultimately made Bowen a meteorologist.
Most memorable storm? Bowen has lived in Colorado since 2012 and, wouldn’t you know it, the floods of 2013 are her most memorable weather event here. She worked phones and emergency coordination at the National Weather Service during that event and said the multi-day event had a lasting impact. Bowen loves to forecast winter. “First winter, not fourth or fifth,” she jokes.
Advice for future meteorologists from Bowen: Stick with it! The coursework is tough and there is a great deal to weather forecasting. Stretch yourself into programming and emergency services if you can to get a wide breadth of experience. Meteorology so much these days is how we communicate the hazards, risks and support our community’s day to day.
Dave grew up around Boston so it was the Nor’Easters that would roar onshore that sparked his interest in meteorology. Once Dave got to college at MSU here in Denver, a professor of his convinced him that weather would be a good career path to follow and the rest is history.
Most memorable storm? Dave has been in Colorado for nearly 20 years and the blizzard from 2003 is the most memorable storm of his. Dave worked 3 days straight with little sleep as the storm raged and since then, snow is his favorite type of weather to forecast.
Advice for future meteorologists from Dave: If you’re pursuing a career in tv, learn the science behind the forecast but when you’re on tv, only talk about the rain, hail, heat and snow, etc.
Kathryn Payne | NOAA Meteorologist at Longmont FAA Control Center
Kathryn was 10 years old when she started watching the Weather Channel. She remembers watching John Hope at 52 past the hour when the tropical update came on the Weather Channel. When Hurricane Gilbert, a category 5 hurricane in 1988, was making landfall she was glued to the tv. The hurricane hunters recorded the lowest pressure ever observed at the time and from that moment, she was hooked.
Most memorable storm? Having lived in Colorado for just a few years, the recent blizzard of March 2021 was her most memorable storm and her official “welcome to Colorado” weather event. But forecasting the winds at Denver International Airport is Kathryn’s biggest challenge as a forecaster for the FAA. Due to the location and topography surrounding the airport, winds can vary direction depending which side of the airport you’re on.
Advice for future meteorologists from Kathryn: A meteorology degree requires a lot of math. Even if you don’t like math or think you are not good at it, stick with it. It took until college for me to finally feel like I understood math, but the light finally came on.
Lauren went to school to be a sports reporter. Her original goal was to end up like Erin Andrews who sports reported for ESPN and the NFL Network. Her college journalism classes had them practice a little bit of everything, including doing the weather. After subbing in as the weather person one day for the college news show, it clicked and as fate would have it, she got offered a job in Grand Junction doing the weather at a news station.
Most memorable storm? Living in Colorado for 10 years now, Lauren remembers big snow events the most like the “bomb” cyclone of March 2019 but as of March 2021, the blizzard that smashed Denver with over two feet of snow is Lauren’s most memorable weather event so far. Snow is definitely her favorite active weather to forecast but she loves exploring and enjoying Colorado so the sunshine and 80s are her true favorite.
Advice for future meteorologists from Lauren: Follow meteorologists you like on social media and see how they do their job. Read a lot! Find other weather enthusiasts, they love it as much as you and will love to talk about the nitty gritty weather details.
Growing up near Castle Rock, Matt Makens knew since 6th grade that weather, space or aviation were his most likely career paths. Makens remembers epic hail and snow events, tornadoes near Calhan and he vividly remembers the Limon tornado coverage of 1990. A borrowed college weather textbook lent to him from a former Douglas County teacher, Mr. McKinney, back in the day was also a huge inspiration of the weather itch.
Most memorable storm? The Simla tornado of 2015 is Makens’ most memorable storm in Colorado. According to Makens, that storm acted differently than all the others that day and went on to produce multiple tornadoes. Makens loves forecasting snow but has recently begun enjoying the challenge of forecasting seasonal variations in the weather based on oceanic and atmospheric conditions.
Advice for future meteorologists from Makens: Never stop learning what’s happening in research — so much is happening in academia with weather and climate. Do your own research, too, so you truly understand your local area’s history and behavior. Study and verify your forecasts to improve them. Finally, never limit yourself to one area of meteorology, stay exposed to many weather and climate career options and keep a hold onto your favorite options as a “Plan B” opportunity when you are ready to grow more in the science.
Chad Gimmestad walked home every day in the sea breeze thunderstorms that would form near his home in Tallahassee, Fla. Couple that with having access to weather books from Florida State University thanks to his uncle’s studies and you get a meteorologist in the making. It wasn’t long before Gimmestad was posting hourly temperatures on the family refrigerator using those colorful magnets.
Most memorable storm? Gimmestad has been in Colorado since 1977 and has studied the weather here ever since. Of course, some wacky weather has impacted Colorado since 1977 and any person who has lived here since the 70s may not be surprised to hear that the blizzard of March 2003 was Gimmestad’s most memorable storm. Gimmestad was a forecaster for the few days leading up to the storm and he held strong with an aggressive forecast of feet of snow for Denver and the surrounding areas. Waking up on the Friday morning of the storm (coincidentally his birthday as well) to see most of the streets empty around town, he knew he helped keep people from being stranded at work. And not surprisingly, snow is Gimmestad’s favorite weather to forecast.
Advice for future meteorologists from Gimmestad: Do something more than just the science that you’re interested in. Writing is still important — it often makes or breaks projects and relationships, so learn to write well. Oral communication is equally important, and multimedia communication is quickly increasing. Exploring some aspects of leadership will help you manage your relationships and improve yourself. Weather affects everything, and the climate system is intertwined with just about every other science. We’re very early in the process of understanding these connections, so there are great opportunities!
Kathy Sabine grew up next to the Sierra Snow Laboratory near Donner Pass in California meaning that mingling with snow meteorologists in this small town left an impression on her young self. After pursuing a costly and timely veterinarian degree, Sabine chose to pursue a degree in journalism which landed her a gig at a TV station in San Luis Obispo, Calif. As fate would have it, Sabine befriended the chief meteorologist and they would talk for hours about the weather and once she got the chance to try out weather broadcasting, she learned she had a knack for it.
Most memorable storm? Sabine has lived in Colorado for 28 years so you could imagine the stories she has but the most memorable one comes from back in 1994, one year after she started working at 9NEWS. She was working mornings when severe weather was forecast. After doing the morning news she was sent to chase the severe storms and “was in the right spot at the right time to observe two tornadoes from the same supercell!” she exclaimed. The “Twister Sisters” are how Sabine remembers them. There were injuries with this storm, baseball-sized hail and a lot of cleanup afterward, which Sabine was there to help with and document. The on-air coverage that day landed her an Emmy and secured her love for meteorology. The fact that the weather here in Colorado can be life-threatening and dangerous at any point throughout the year is what Sabine describes as “Challenging, forecast fun!”
Advice for future meteorologists from Sabine: If weather is your passion, this job will never feel like work. Learn as much as you can! Get your degree, get your AMS and NWA seals, absorb from the pros then go out and be you! The education will give you confidence and the confidence will allow you to showcase your individual personality!