Exploring Career Options: A Look Inside the Life of a Meteorologist

Ellie Robert, Staff Writer

My alarm goes off about 2:20 [A.M.] and I try to be out of bed by 2:45 [A.M.]. I snooze a little bit,” Meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner joked. “Then I’m [at WRAL-TV near] 3:30/3:45 [A.M.]… I almost always have somebody in here and we work as a team. The great thing about that day, I mean it’s hard on you, but walking out at 1:30 [P.M.] means I get to spend all my time with my kids.” 

Gardner has worked as a meteorologist at WRAL-TV for 22 years. Originally born in Raleigh, North Carolina, Gardner began her career in mass media as a reporter in High Point, North Carolina. But life after high school was not easy for Gardner. After she earned her college degree in journalism from the University of Colorado, Gardner’s first step in her career was a minimum wage job at a studio that only paid her three days a week. But despite all the early hours and constant pressure from public scrutiny, Gardner loves her job at WRAL-TV. “What I like to tell young people is that if it’s a job that’s easy to get, it’s because nobody wants it… You know, [your job has] got to be something that you really enjoy doing,” Gardner said. “So the things that people really enjoy doing everybody wants to do, but don’t be afraid of that.”

WRAL-TV has many people and components that help to produce the news we watch every morning after breakfast or every night before bed. In the master control room, the master control operator is in charge of giving commands to the news control room. “Even during the news, this person will sit here and make sure that the news control room knows the times, he keeps up the times, he keeps up if the commercial is airing that’s supposed to air, is the program airing that’s supposed to air, and just to make sure that everything is running smoothly,” said Gardner.

While inside of the taping room, Gardner describes the role of the floor director: “He’s the floor director, so he’s telling the anchors where they need to go because they’ll move around,” she said. “He tells them which camera to look at and when they’re supposed to talk.” Aside from the floor director, another person inside of the tapping room is in charge of the cameras. At WRAL-TV, the cameras are controlled electronically. “It’s like the old school video game with a joy-stick,” Gardner said. “Then, these cameras move around wherever they need to be.”

Gardner says that the news anchors, although they may not look like it, do have a script. “[The script] reflects in front of the camera, we call that the teleprompter… So right in front of the camera, when you look at it, there are actually words,” Gardner said. “[The script is] a reflection so the words are reflected on the glass, right on the camera lens.”

Aside from mirrored teleprompters, the team also uses other types of new technology like virtual graphics and weather forecasting screens. “So, we try to tell the weather story like you would tell any story and we use different graphics for that. So, when [we] come in [we ask ourselves], first of all, is everything the same as it was yesterday or do we have big changes?” Gardner said. “We always show temperatures; we always show the forecast. Depending on what’s happening that day we try to show some unique graphics.” Traditionally, meteorologists use a green screen to project the forecast behind them, but since WRAL-TV’s renovation, the team now uses an electronic screen. “Up until six months ago, we always used a green wall and we had to have monitors that sat on either side. We could see ourselves in the camera, but if we wanted to turn to point to something, the wall was always green,” Gardner said. “So, you had to look at the monitors.” Gardner continued and pointed out that although meteorologists do not need to look at the screen when announcing the forecast, they will do a quick glance and point to make things appear more natural.

Unlike other sources, like Apple Weather, the data for WRAL-TV’s weather forecast is determined by human sources, not computers. Gardner also said that networks rarely share notes with each other, but rather all collect data from the National Weather Service. “The National Weather Service is like the post office,” Gardner joked, “it’s a government agency that’s involved in the weather. Then you’ve got other people that are delivering mail, like FedEx and UPS. We’re kind-of like FedEx and UPS.”