Transcript: Space4U podcast, Meredith Garofalo
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
Hi there. This is Rich Cooper with the Space Foundation and this is the Space4U podcast series that tells the stories of the amazing people who contribute to today’s space community. I’m joined today by Meredith Garofalo and an award-winning certified broadcast meteorologist who is part of the esteemed team at Weather Nation.
Meredith is also the co-chair of the AMS station scientists committee, which focuses on greater awareness and outreach when it comes to science education for the community and viewers Meredith, thank you for joining us. Thanks so much, Rich. I’m very happy to be here and to talk with you and our entire listener Meredith a bit about yourself and how you got into meteorology.
Well, I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there Rich that can relate or even kids that are listening that know they have that childhood dream because that’s how it was for me. I was actually only three years old and my mother told me a story of surviving. The one of the biggest tornado outbreaks in history, the super outbreaks of 1974.
She survived the tornado that devastated the town of Xenia, Ohio. And for some reason, Hearing that story as a child, I became very interested in tornadoes. Your weather. And also the fact that she volunteered with the red cross to help people out. And I found my calling that I wanted to be somebody that would warn people of that, weather that was coming.
And so I started watching local meteorologists and the national meteorologists and got really excited about the chance to be somebody that people could count on to keep them safe. But also when there was good weather, I could be there to give them the positive news that instead of a baseball game, getting rained out there was going to be sunshine.
And so pretty much my entire childhood into high school, I continued to study weather and studied meteorology and reach out to the local meteorologists. And it just was something that I said I was going to do. And you can ask any of my family members or my friends from back in the day, as they said, yep.
There is always that you want to be a meteorologist. And now here I am and I’m living my childhood dream. And I really hope that if there are any kids out, there are parents with kids that are interested in something or passionate about something at a younger age, they just go with it and follow it because that was the best decision I could’ve made for my life.
So you were the person in the, in your family that when people wanted to know what the weather was going to be the next day, You are already giving them the answer. Yes, that was me. And I was also the little stage queen. I liked to do plays and I sing as well. And so I was always the performer. So it seemed perfect.
A performer doing leather. Well, that works. But, but is meteorology just about the weather or is there more to it there’s so much more short Grinch because we don’t think about it sometimes, but it plays such a big role in our daily lives. Sometimes it’s on a little end of things or sometimes it’s the big end of things.
When you’re going through an event outdoors and there’s tornado warning that day shoot, and you have weather, that’s going to threaten licensed property and it’s not just weather in testing our lives, impact animals. It impacts events. It impacts the stock. I mean, there’s so many different ways that weather connects to our life that we imagine, but being somebody that forecast the weather, that also reminds me daily of how important our job is as a meteorologist.
What role does space play in meteorology? That question is a great question because it reminds me of when I got my passion for space, because I always thought space is cool and the launches were very awesome, but I got to cover the GOs S which is now our goes West satellite launch and being that it was built and tweaked here in Colorado and Lockheed Martin.
I got to get up front with the satellite, the people who build the satellites and learn about the things that it was going to do for us up in space and the constellation that we were going to have of other satellites to help us with weather forecasting. And so if we didn’t have those satellites up there, they weren’t next generation.
If they weren’t high resolution, they wouldn’t. Contribute to our forecast being more accurate and more in detail. And there’s so many interesting and exciting things about the ghost satellite series. And we only have two of them up there. So there’s still another few that are going to be joining them.
But there’s also so many other, as I mentioned, constellations of satellites that do different things for forecasting that study our climate, study the planet. And as a result, it helps us protect the Earth so much more. So a day without access to space and space technology, if you did not have those things, could you do the meteorology you do today?
Not as accurately, I would have to say because they really add that extra, I guess you could say, in our forecasting because they provide information that helps us make a call either quicker or a little bit. Faster where we can save lives by getting out a warning, or it can show us that a tropical system is starting to strengthen.
And so you can add the extra warnings and the extra layers. And so as much as space is cool to look at, as far as the planets and the stars and comets go, it’s also something that I feel is crucial to my field of meteorology and also crucial to everybody’s daily lives, because without it, we wouldn’t be able to be there as much as we can for people.
So, how do you train for a career as a meteorologist and, and what does it mean to be a certified broadcast meteorologist or CBM? I went to college for a bachelor’s of science in meteorology, and that’s a four year program. I went to Valparaiso University, which is in Northwest Indiana, and that my training started there.
Lots of math. We’ll also science. And to be honest, I was never, ever good at now. And so to say, I mean, I can, I can add well, but, you know, I struggled with math. It was something that never came easy to me, but there was a lot of very vigorous training over those four years of school as also internships. In meteorology help with being a broadcast meteorologist.
So I did my internship. My senior year for a radio station. That’d be a job, but then also I interned with Tom Skilling which many people might be familiar with in Chicago at WGN, which was a fantastic learning opportunity. The attendance has changed, but that was. The bones, I guess you could say getting my career going.
And then it was just getting experience as been in television now for more than 10 years. And I’ve worked pretty much all over the country. I started in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I worked at a few stations in Ohio. I got the forecast at the beach, Sarasota, Florida, and then I got moved to California and learned about all the complex weather patterns is microclimates and fire weather forecasting that they had there.
And I feel like the more experience you have combined with the education makes you a much better forecaster. Then also it helps you become more comfortable on TV and getting up in front of millions of people and being able to give a forecast, whether it’s a nice forecast or whether it’s the threatening forecast. And getting a certified broadcast meteorologist, you know, that’s by the American meteorological society.
And what it is is it’s given to broadcasters that passed two different kinds of tests. The first test is a written exam and that takes time to study for you’re literally going over everything that he went through in college. Again. And sometimes it’s not right after college.
I recently got mine within the last five years. And once you pass the written exam, you have to submit two different video broadcast with you on air one on what’s called an active day. So that would be, for example, if there’s a hurricane, if there’s severe weather outbreak. When I was in California, if there was a wildfire in Texas, the area that was an access day.
And then just a general day where you had high pressure control or you had sunshine. And there wasn’t a lot that was changing was the weather pattern. So it was more about your knowledge and your presentation of the area, and also telling the weather story in the most unique and easy to understand way that you can.
And so once you pass it to you because you get the approval and become a certified broadcast meteorologists, and I think it’s a very esteemed. Esteem feels to have, because it shows the viewers at home that you went through rigorous training, not just in college, but even through your professional. It sounds a lot like taking the bar.
If you want to be a lawyer or a doctor in passing your boards, I would agree because I was never a good test taker and Rich, I have to say, and to be honest, I had to take the test three times before I passed. And it was very stressing and it was very mentally exhausting, but you never give up and you keep trying for what you want and what your goals are.
And you’re going to six to eight. You mentioned that in your growing up math was not your strong suits and not being a great test taker. Uh, you and I share that in common. Uh, math was definitely not my subject, but I’m curious when you were growing up, what were your other favorite subjects to study that puts you on the path that you’re on today?
Definitely science and I have to say history was one of my favorite subjects and I think that’s where I got. Interested as well. And aside from weather, because I really enjoyed about reading all the different challenges, the safe program faced all the struggles, but also all the successes. And it just really got me excited, especially watching so many movies.
Nowadays that has history in it because it tells our story, whether it’s feather or whether it’s they. And so history and science were my favorites, but as I mentioned, I’m also a singer. And so I really enjoyed all my music classes. Well, I don’t think I told you that I’m a singer. Did I read that when I was doing the research to do this, I saw that you had sung the national Anthem at a certain football team stadium.
And, uh, as a diehard Steelers fan, I will forgive those allegiances that you had and how that team has broken my heart a few times, particularly in the playoffs. But we’ll leave it at that. So you talk about, you know, some of the movies and things that you were growing up. And I guess one of the things that immediately comes to mind is the movie Twister.
Are you one of these persons that looks at a movie and says, Oh, they get this right. They got that wrong. Or do you take a pretty critical eye at that? Uh, those, that’s a hard question because anyone who watches that movie with the knowledge I have now, especially as an adult, when I first watched it, I didn’t. And I didn’t have as much of the background knowledge.
I was like, Oh, this is really cool. This is awesome. I want to go to storm chasing, but now I do analyze certain things, certain movies like that, but yeah, it’s kind of fun too, because then it just brings up things. I might’ve looked over at school and. I guess I can be annoying on the couch at times we could probably get tested that as I go through movies and say what they get right and wrong too.
But, uh, I guess you’ve never had to worry about doing a forecast with flying cows as a twister head in it. So. Meredith who was the teacher or mentor that really inspired you to pursue your career? You mentioned that your mom was part of the red cross and shared the stories of the score of the tornadoes in 1974.
Certainly she’s one of your mentors and inspirations, but who was, uh, who was another teacher or mentor that inspired you in your career? I have to say there were so many amazing teachers. From elementary school to high school, to college, that always believed in me. And as I mentioned before, it’s something I was always interested in and growing up, I was different because I was very passionate about weather.
And you could find me in the library all the time, reading books on tornadoes. And so unfortunately I went through a lot of bullying by my peers. And so my teachers were. They were my, I think those were the people that I could talk to with the other kids made fun of me, or they didn’t believe that I was going to go into a science career.
And so I have to give every teacher, I think I’ve had it, my career credits all the way through college, but one of the people that I really have to think, unfortunately, is no longer with us. His name is Richard Puzo and he was a. And also as all of university grad, but a broadcaster. Um, it it’s heartbreaking because he lost a battle with brain cancer.
And that was in the beginning of my career. But through college in the first half of my career, he was that broadcaster. I can always call for advice. He loved weather, he loves science and he kept me motivated even through some of the, the challenges, the hardest times that I was going through. And sometimes when.
I didn’t feel like I could do it, or I could move forward. He was always encouraging me and he was a phone call or a text away. And I’ll never forget the advice he gave me and how he just continued to believe in me. And so I, I owe a lot of where I am today because of him. In addition to all those other metrics that I was talking about, it was like a pretty amazing person.
Do you have a particular time of year or season when it’s especially challenging to do weather forecast? Now, again, you’re based out of Colorado and Colorado as I have experienced it is that if you don’t like the weather in Colorado, wait a minute, it’s going to change. Um, I’ve never seen quite a state like Colorado where you can have all four seasons in one day.
Is there a particular time of year or season when it’s really hard to do weather forecasts? I think what’s the toughest for me. Rich is concise forecast nationally and for the Caribbean as well. It’s very tough when we have asked him whether here in Colorado, because I want to be out in the field analyzing it, but I have to be in studio, covering a hurricane for example, or a tornado outbreak in Iowa.
So my mind’s going into different directions. But if I had to say locally forecasting for the Denver area, it’s definitely. Tricky with a lot of the winter storms that come through here because you have the mountains, you have topography which can enhance or completely disintegrate a storm depending on the direction it’s coming in from it.
So when you’re doing forecasting, Alongside mountain ranges. It adds a whole different level of challenges because sometimes your forecast can be spot on, but other times it’s one little cyst in the weather and the whole forecast spots. And you could get two inches of snow versus 20 inches of snow cast meteorologists.
What is one of the most challenging circumstances that you’ve had to report and share with audiences? I mean, you mentioned about. The hurricanes and the tornadoes and the fires. Those are all literally catastrophic events that are occurring in those communities. Is there a particular, uh, experience that you have that was really challenging for you to forecast and report on.
Absolutely. And I talk about this a lot, because this is one of the times in my career. I tell people we’re, we’re, we’re human. We’re real. You see us on a television and work. We look like we have everything together and everything’s going well. But during hurricane Harvey, I was. On the air forecasting, one of the overnight events where people were trapped in their homes because of the flooding and they couldn’t get out.
So social media was filled with messages from people help and trapped in my home, or my grandmother’s in our house. We can’t get to her because of the flooding. And I actually had to take time off the year to cry because as much as I could do to help warn people about what was happening and. How they could get through it.
I knew that there were people that weren’t going to get through it at that moment. And it was very, very tough and my coworkers were the same. We get emotional about those types of things. And sometimes you just have to take a step back and just breathe or just cry and let it out because know as much as we want to help save as many lives as possible.
Sometimes we can’t and definitely hurricane Harvey.
A lot of us have seen one of your, uh, uh, colleagues. Uh, I don’t necessarily want to call it a competitor, but there’s, you know, if you see Jim, Ken Tory in your neighborhood. Yeah. It’s not a good day weather wise, it’s going to happen. He and other meteorologists certainly put themselves at risk to go out and report that.
What’s the most dangerous weather situation that you found yourself in countering and having to report on. So you’re, you’re talking about being out in the field. That takes me back to when I was working in Sarasota, Florida, and I was covering tropical storm. Debbie and Debbie was one of the storms that was.
Way out of the center of the ball from Mexico, but it was such a large storm that we were still getting rain and impacts and storms and storm surge coming into our coastline. And I was out there with just my photographer and myself, that there was a point that the tide was coming in and we had storm surge coming in.
And these huge, well we’re just literally being pushed out of water and shoved up onto the shore. And here I am along the coast and I can see it. Behind me when I would turn to look at the water and he huge boats just getting tossed around like children’s toys and. You get to a point where you have to make the call, that it’s not a safe situation and it’s not worth as they say, getting the shots or getting the video to get to a safe place.
And so we definitely left a little bit earlier than we were hoping to, but it was very scary because as we know, the power of the wind is not the wind itself. She thinks what’s in the wind. And so anytime you’re in a situation like that, you have to be aware of your surroundings. You have to know what’s coming in.
If there’s going to be a break. And of course all the hazards we warn people about. We have to take the warnings ourselves, lightning flooding. And so that was definitely a scary situation. Thankfully, we were okay. We were able to get the news car, but sometimes I’ve used the other reports with people that I don’t know if they weren’t paying attention or if they were, they just couldn’t get them more safe, but it’s always a risk when we go out there.
But we, for the most part are trained to handle those situations. How do you prepare for something like that? And do you have a. A go bag of materials that you and a cameraman have with you. Um, I’m thinking obviously, you know, that that scouting, uh, Axiom of be prepared. How do you and a camera, a camera operator prepare for something like that?
Do you have a go kit? We definitely have a go kit. We have a first day kit in the live truck, but we also have conversations before we even go out plans. For example, I remember we had a new truck that had a really tall mask that we’d have to put up and that’s an obvious lightening rod. And so we would always have conversations before that if there was lightning within a certain radius of that, that had to come down immediately.
And so it was more of mentally preparing ourselves for the worst, but hoping for the best, every time we went out, With all the advanced technology that you and other meteorologists use. Why is weather prediction still so hit or miss? Whether it’s so complex, there are so many different scales of different types of weather.
You can have smaller scale systems such as a tornado. You can have larger scale, huge systems in the jet stream, for example, or hurricane that. You could take one small thing and change it. And. Your whole forecast is off. And I still feel like even people who have been in the business for 30, 40 years, you’re still learning something new every day because no two storms are the same.
And one of the examples that I would like to use, especially when I’m talking to kids for an example of how. Putting into weather to change if you have a hurricane, and if you think about a spinning top and you put it on the counter and it stays there for a minute, but if you bump it just a little bit, it can go in a completely different direction or be pushed in a different, so a different direction.
That’s a little different change where sometimes with certain weather, we can have that completely. Either what we call busted forecast, or it doesn’t happen or completely takes that forecast and puts it in a completely different direction for us. What is the most misunderstood or underappreciated aspect of meteorology?
The question I think being a broadcaster, I find challenges daily and I’m sure a lot of other people in the weather community would agree that we are still learning. Going back to the question you just asked me. And I think I’ve heard the joke about, Oh, you could be wrong. If people said at the time and still get paid.
And I don’t think people realize how stressful our chop can be on a daily basis, then when something doesn’t happen. Exactly. As we forecast, we feel bad about it. We want to give the best forecast. We go in there every single day, trying to do our best. And when something doesn’t happen, according to plan or something changes.
There’s still a lot of planning that goes into our forecast and analyzing it every single day. And so yes, sometimes we’re not going to be right. And a lot of times when we’re not right, we’ll be able to go back and look at what happened to be able to explain. And there are going to be those times where maybe we can’t explain because it’s an area that we’re still learning stuff from daily.
But I think people don’t realize how tough a job that is before casting. There’s a, there’s a joke that goes around. Like if you think picking your. Super bowl picks is hard. You should, you know, open about meteorology. I can’t remember it, but I’m sure you’ve seen it out there. It’s like, it’s tough for us.
It’s like picking the super bowl pixels. I think that makes sense. Hopefully. Living in the DC area, uh, where I am today, you know, with weather forecasts again, they can be, uh, they can predict three feet of snow and then nothing happens. And so the meteorologists, like any town, you know, certainly take their share of, uh, public ribbing.
Joke about that, but, uh, it is a, I’m sure it is a stressful and challenging experience to have to go through that. And I think your analogy you used about the top spinning on a table and then just a slight bump can send it in another direction. Uh, I think it was a really good analogy to use. I hadn’t quite thought of it that way, but it makes sense.
I think a lot of times when you take meteorology, yes. There’s a lot of science behind it and yes, it’s very, very complicated, but there are ways to make it easier to understand. And that’s why, especially with the way I do my forecast, I find it very important to take a small analogy like that. Because when you put into a perspective of every day, for example, another thing is with the severe weather event, it’s like baking a cake.
You need all the ingredients to have a very busy, severe weather day. But if you’re missing some of those ingredients, it may not be as devastating, or it may not be as busy as originally anticipated, but if you have all those ingredients come together, just like your cake is purpose and it comes out of the house and it’s moist, and it’s the best thing you ever made.
It’s like the same thing with severe weather and all those ingredients come together perfectly. And it’s the right amount. You’re going to have a very. Busy and sometimes disaster filled severe weather day. Weather impact our weather here on Earth. It’s definitely something I would like to get more involved with, especially now that I’ve developed more of a passion for space launches.
I’ve covered in the forecast, but we think of stuff every day. There’s different types of things, whether that affects. Our everyday technology. For example, you have solar flares that’ll happen. As we know, sometimes we can get blacked out. And I think their nickname for that is radio blackout store, where you will have issues like that, or maybe are different electronics don’t work or fail because of the solar flares.
And so they go hand in hand with what we do, but also sometimes you can have geomagnetic storm and that can affect the power grid. And so we may not think about it as much, and sometimes it’s not to the point of, as we see in certain movies, it’d being extreme, but little things like that, or even the change in the fund can impact our climate.
And so there’s so many different things with Earth weather in space that when you put it together and look at it, it’s quite interesting. What skill or experience have you acquired as a meteorologist that you are most proud of? That’s such a good question. It’s a hard question too, because I just, I try to do my job the best I can everyday.
And I tried to save lives and I think over the last 10 plus years now being a forecaster, I’ve really been able to fine tune my skills. And one of them is. Being on the radar when there’s tornado warnings is being able to dissect it by looking at the velocity or one of the products that we have with the tools on our radar and can help pinpoint the location of a tornado and being able to be on the air and tell people this is where.
I would be it’s nighttime. We can’t see it, but I would tell you, this is where I would say that tornado is, and it’s moving toward this couch and actually getting that information out there before the warning or giving people enough time to get the shelter. And I think I’m very proud that I’ve been able to develop that.
And I have to give credit to some of my coworkers here at Weather Nation that has worked with me and helped with me to develop that skill even more. But. Very very proud that I can help save lives. And I feel being a broadcast, meteorologists, the privilege we get to go in there every single day and be somebody for the community to look up to whether it’s giving weather information or even being a positive role model for young women and girls that are interested in science careers, and that are trying to get into the science community.
And as it’s giving a school talk one time back in the beginning of my career and. Within the last, I believe a year I heard from one of the girls in the class on social media and she’s now a scientist. And she said my story in the way I talked to them as students, which is something I’m very passionate about.
And she said that she remembered me talking to her class and the things I said to her and she kept them. I’m sorry, I’m getting a little emotional. But when I read it, I was very touched that I was able to say something that helped us by her to go into a science career. And so I think I’m also. Very happy that all the experience I’ve done doing classroom talks and career talks is paying it forward and keeping some of these kids in schools and helping some of them go for their dreams and goals.
Want to pull that thread of mentorship that you do. And that’s a great example in story of paying it forward with a young woman to reach back to you. I, I would like to ask, what piece of advice do you have for young people and in particular young women who want to consider a career in meteorology or science, never give up three words that will resound with you.
The rest of your life. I have had experience. Challenging career. And as I mentioned, some of the stuff I went through in school, and there were a lot of times when I could have easily thrown in the towel and said, the math is too hard. I failed too many tests. I don’t think I can do that. I don’t believe enough in myself.
And had I listened to that, that nagging voice. I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t be as happy as I am to call broadcast meteorology, my lifelong dream and career. And. Reach out to those people that you look up to those mentors and anyone that’s listening today. I think something that’s wrecking your interest in whether, whether it’s on air or behind the scenes reached out to me.
I would love to talk to you about your career because the mentors that I had helped get me to where I am today, the more you fill your circle with passion, the people, whether it’s mentored teachers, friends, people that encourage you and believe in you, your family. You want to believe in yourself to you?
And that’s the most important thing, because it’s so easy sometimes to give up or to go as they call it the, the Chris’ path, the quick journey to where you’re going to go in life. But the story is so much better. When you have the failures, when you’ve had the successes, when you don’t get that job, you thought you wanted, because something more amazing was about to open up.
But at the end of the day, never give up because anything is possible. And I always think of that. Walt Disney quote, if you dream it, you can do it. And I live my life by that model every single day, even though, even in the challenging times, because we know we all have the. Having a podcast interview with a meteorologist sort of tells me that I can get away with this, but I’d like to do a lightning round of quick questions with you to wrap this thing up.
You like how I got that in there? Didn’t you okay. I did. I liked the weather plan. Yeah. Yeah. You know, every now and then I, I pull it off, but let me ask you this, who has the best weather on Earth? Oh, wow. That’s interesting because that’s weather to be a sunny day at the beach or best weather could be rainy, nice to fall asleep too.
But I have to say if we’re going for comfort and living. When I was in Santa Barbara, California, the weather was fantastic there. It was boring for me to forecast, but Santa Barbara, California had fantastic weather and I haven’t traveled around the world yet. And that is going to be a goal of mine. But I have to say if I had to take somewhere for forecasting, goodness, like all different seasons.
That’s tough because it’s so, it’s so fun to learn and to do different types of weather, but I would say, Hmm, you don’t, it’s like you stumped me. Okay. Well then I’ll give you another question. Who is your weather hero? Oh, brother Euro. I still have to go back to my mentor, Rich. Like I said, I wouldn’t be where I am without him today.
And he had a very challenging. Career as well, but he came out and he did so many good things. So I’m going to stick with Richard pizza. Okay. Favorite weather day Saturdays, because
I just have a, what is that movie moment? Miss congeniality moment. Um, I got a movie question coming here next. So that was a good preamble, but, uh, Saturday is your favorite weather that good for you? Okay. Who’s your favorite space hero? Neil Armstrong.
What’s your favorite weather movie or weather moment? Look, I would say Twitter and I’m sure my fellow meteorologists out there. Some of them will be shaking their heads, but I still love them moving. Well mine’s Groundhog day, so I’ll leave it at that favorite song to sing.
Okay. Meredith, this has been fun. I want to thank you for your time and sharing, uh, your experience as a meteorologist. And, and what I would say is an ambassador for science careers for young people, and in particular young women that want to pursue those dreams. And as you mentioned, the Walt Disney quote of, if you can dream it, you can do it.
What a great. What a great motto to live a life to, uh, thank you for joining us and sharing your experience, your laughter, and even your song, uh, with us today. Very grateful for your time with us. Well, thank you so much Rich, like I said, for any girl out there that has a dream in a science career, especially weather meteorology, but don’t hesitate.
To reach out, because if I can easily give you one little piece of advice or something to help you along your career, I do want to pay it forward as so many people did for me. What a great way to end this. And again, paying it forward. You are doing Meredith. You are a. Credit to your profession and the Weather Nation team.
And, uh, your viewers are as well as your colleagues are certainly fortunate to have you in their orbit. Thank you for your time. And that concludes this episode of space foundation space for you podcast. Keep your eyes and ears open for more episodes by checking out our social media outlets on. Facebook Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
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