It’s All Over In Birmingham

I’m sitting in a corner of the lobby of the Radisson Hotel in Birmingham typing this blog entry. Most of my classmates have gone home or gone to lunch. As a chronic snacker, I’ve already had my fill.

We spent all day Friday seeing presentations and lectures. There were a few given by Weather Service personnel from here in the south. What they said was fine, but it was really about types of weather I just don’t deal with… and never expect to deal with.

Later, one of the Mississippi State instructors presented a case study for us to analyze. Again, it was interesting, but it dealt with a type of storm we never see in the east.

Finally, as the afternoon was ending (it was actually evening by then), we began another session of tape watching.

While it was going on, I thought I was the only one dreading this. Later I found nearly everyone was self conscious and petrified of what their classmates would think.

Isn’t strange how we can go on the air, in front of thousands (sometimes millions) of viewers without a second thought. But, to show our work in front of a room full of our peers is a weak kneed moment!

My tape was pulled. I stood up to say a few words before it played. I attempted to crack a small joke at my own expense. Silence. Tough room.

The tape played and I was really squirming. I think it was OK and, of course, the polite comments were very nice. Who can really tell?

What impressed me more than anything were the few people who had no background in broadcasting or weather, adults who had decided to begin a new midlife career and registered for the MSU program. A few of them were the program’s best students.

The session ended around 7:30 and I headed to the room. I was fully intending to stay there for the rest of the evening until I called Helaine. She accused me of acting like an old person. I was in Birmingham. Have a good time.

I changed my shirt and headed to the lobby.

A few groups were organizing, deciding where to go. I joined a group of 14, and we headed to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s no way to say this restaurant chain’s name without sounding like you’re mispronouncing it.

We entered the restaurant and were escorted to a small, private room. That was perfect, because we didn’t want to disturb the other diners, and we certainly didn’t want them to disturb us!

I had lamb chops and broiled tomatoes. The chops were beautifully seasoned, thick and very tasty. I started to explain to the waiter how I wanted them cooked. He just looked at me and said, “Pittsburgh?”

Exactly, Pittsburgh. Some burn on the outside, but more medium in the center.

We left the restaurant and headed back to the hotel. On the way, some decided to go to Danny’s, a local bar. This time I took a pass and continued to the Radisson. There was, after all, another morning of class to come.

I have been getting up very early (for me) on this trip. Even though my commute was by elevator, I was still out of bed by 7:30 AM. That’s just wrong.

Today was the final session. A practice test&#185

Hold on… cell phone. Uh oh! Words I never want to hear.

“Hello, Mr. Fox. It’s Mary from Delta Airlines calling.” This is not a social call. “Unfortunately, your flight from Birmingham to Cincinnati has been canceled.”

This blog entry will be picked up when I get back to Connecticut.


Where were we?

In order to successfully finish the course, you need an 80 on a two hour, 100 question comprehensive test. It covers all three years. How could you possibly study?

On the other hand, the instructors have told us 90% of those taking this test pass on the first try. People with A’s and B’s always pass the first time.

I took the sample test. The benchmark was 55 answers correct on this shortened test, to pass. I got 54 right! Better luck next time.

As I checked around the room I realized, I wasn’t alone. This test might have been a little harder, and it certainly wasn’t an open book test, as the real one will be. On a test like this, where I’ll probably know 75% of the answers immediately, open book will be the difference.

There were also awards handed out. I did very well at MSU and was thrilled to receive, along with six others, an award for academic excellence.

You may have noticed, as the photographer, I’m not in many pictures. Well, for this award I handed the camera to another student and walked to the front. At least this one achievement should be documented.

That is how the photo came out of the camera!

Even more impressive, a few of the awards were captured by people who had never been on the air! This course was their first meteorological experience and they scored all A’s. That’s astounding.

We finished off our sessions with a talk about the qualifications for the American Meteorological Society Broadcast Seal. The AMS is transitioning to some new criteria for the seal. In fact, though I’ll be grandfathered in, it’s obvious the AMS is trying to diminish the Mississippi State program in favor of four year, calculus based degree programs.

It’s ridiculous, because the MSU program is more than sufficient for an on-the-air forecaster. It seems to me, this is only a way for the ‘traditional’ on-campus meteorology programs to avoid competition.

The AMS is also starting a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist program, which I will not qualified for! I didn’t have meteorology classes that were calculus based. Of course, no one in operational meteorology ever uses any calculus to produce a forecast!

Angry? Me? Sure – a little bit. I knew all of this going into the AMS program. It’s the meteorological equivalent of a protective tariff.

So, that’s it. The program’s over. I have not yet taken the comprehensive test, but my instructor instructed me to begin referring to myself as a meteorologist… and I will.

And then, that phone call from Mary at Delta!

We spoke for a few seconds, and things didn’t sound promising. Then, I said I’d be willing to fly to Hartford and have Helaine drive me to New Haven to pick up my car.


Delta would move me to an earlier Birmingham to Cincinnati flight and then take me to Hartford. I’d be over 50 miles from my car, but I’d be in Connecticut three hours earlier than previously scheduled.

I packed up my gear and hopped into the hotel’s airport van. Three guys in airline uniforms joined me. As it turned out, they were my crew to Cincinnati.

We got to talking and before long I was asking them, then telling them about meteorology. The pilot, a kite surfer, was looking for a better way to predict ocean winds. I made a recommendation.

Later, during the flight, he congratulated me on passing my course on the plane’s PA system. How embarrassing.

So, now I’m home. I’m really tired, but I’ll be better tomorrow. Going to Birmingham turned out to be a better, more valuable trip than I anticipated (not that I had any choice in going)

&#185 – Even though I have totally completed the course of study, there is a comprehensive test of 100 questions in two hours that I’ll have to take within the next few weeks.

Changing The Rules During The Game

I am not a meteorologist, but I do the same job as the three meteorologists I work with. Over twenty plus years, and with lots of study, I think I know what I’m doing… though that’s for my viewers to judge, not me.

A few years ago my boss thought it would be a good thing if my expertise in meteorology was acknowledged. He offered to pay the cost if I would obtain the Seal of Approval in Broadcast Meteorology from the American Meteorological Society. It would take a commitment on my part to complete a formal course of study to ‘legitimized’ my knowledge.

The best way to go about this was the Broadcast Meteorology program offered by Mississippi State University. I began classes in September 2002.

I am often asked if it’s an on-line program. The simple answer is, sort of. Lectures are given on DVD and video cassette. Tests, quizzes and access to teaching assistants is given on-line. There is a short trip to Mississippi required at the end of the 3 year program.

When I am finished, I will have 53 credits in meteorology and related subjects. The difference between this course and more traditional college meteorology programs is the math requirement. Here, it is fairly rudimentary with some statistics and algebra. In most other courses there is calculus involved.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Mississippi State specifically tailored this program to meet the AMS Seal requirements. Graduates of traditional programs often claim that the MSU program is inferior. However, for day-to-day broadcast meteorology, the MSU program is a magnitude order beyond what is needed.

I have often heard kvetching about how the MSU program cheapens the more traditional meteorology programs. And now, in an end around move, the AMS is changing the Broadcast Seal program in a way that will please the kvetches.

In a few years the AMS Seal will cease to be issued. Current holders (and hopefully I will be one by then) will be ‘grandfathered’ in.

Replacing the seal will be a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist program. The qualifications include passing a test and a degree in meteorology or equivalent. Right now, my guess would be that they will not consider the Mississippi State program equivalent, even though it requires more meteorology related subjects than most traditional programs.

This is a broadside aimed specifically at MSU. If this policy is enacted as proposed, the MSU program will quickly lose its reason for being.

I have been in touch with the director of the program at Mississippi State. A few weeks ago he seemed non plussed. Today I sense he is more concerned about what’s going on.

I have recommended that he make a personal presentation to the AMS boards which will make the final decision. A well thought out and prepared personal appearance might make a world of difference. He says that is his idea too.

Over one third of the broadcast meteorologists in the United States received their training from Mississippi State. Soon, I will too. I will have the qualifications for the AMS Seal late in the summer of 2005.

The Meat of Meteorology

If you read this blog regularly, you probably already know I forecast the weather on TV. That’s my job and I’ve been doing it for over 20 years (and about 35 years broadcasting in general).

I am not a meteorologist. There are three others on our meteorology staff at work, and we all do the same thing. I do what a meteorologist does. Forecasting is a skill I’ve studied over the last 20 years and, hopefully, mastered.

A year and a half ago, the general manager of our station asked if I would formalize my education, become a meteorologist and get the AMS Seal (AMS is The American Meteorological Society). The AMS Seal is pretty much the ‘gold standard’ for broadcast weather forecasters. I said yes and enrolled at Mississippi State University in their distance learning program. When I’m finished, I will have a certificate in meteorology, not a bachelors degree.

Now, with my Summer ’05 completion looming, I see the AMS is changing the rules for broadcast meteorology again. I say again because 20 years ago there was no formal education component of the seal at all.

This time, they will eliminate the seal program and replace it with Certified Broadcast Meteorologist or CBM. In order to receive the CBM, you will need to have a BS in meteorology, not just the core 50+ credits that Mississippi State provides. The seal program will continue until 2008, meaning I will be able to qualify and receive one, though not the CBM.

Why would the AMS care if you have other credits and a degree beyond the core courses? My guess is, the more traditional universities have seen the MSU program and realize the only way they can compete with it, or have their graduates compete with it, is to change the rules and (possibly) eliminate it.

I have just had an email conversation with the director of the MSU program. I don’t think he realized how this rule change would affect what they’re doing. I think he does now.

The question is, what is the reason for having the AMS Seal in the first place? If it’s to help viewers shop for a scientifically based presentation, with this move the AMS has gone too far. Even the current qualifications provide more than enough screening.

If its purpose is to promote the fortunes of the traditional schools of meteorology, and their students, this change will achieve the goal.