By DAVID GREEN
Channel 13 meteorologist Jay Berschback had wrapped up his talk before a roomful of Morenci sixth grade students. Now it was time for the question-and-answer session.
“Are we going to have any more snow days this year?”
That’s a good question to ask a weatherman. He should be able to help out if anybody can.
“Yes,” Jay replied, “but I don’t know when. I wish we could make them Fridays or Mondays.”
Jay takes the morning shift on Channel 13, so it’s his face on the screen on snowy mornings when closings and delays are announced. What a popular guy.
Jay makes his appearance in the early morning news program and again at noon, and then he’s finished.
“That’s the good part of my job,” he said. “I’m done at 12:30. My day is done. I take a nap every day. Isn’t that cool?”
It’s not a job for the late night person.
“I get up every day at 2:30 in the morning. I walk into the station at 3:30. With a big jug of coffee.”
Jay says he goes to bed at 8 or 9 p.m. until the weekend arrives. Then he lets his schedule go awry, and come Monday morning, that jug of coffee better be ready.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he says.
Jay spent some time talking cold fronts, jet streams and relative humidity. He went through the water cycle, barometric pressure and atmosphere, but those are things kids hear in science class.
It was the inside look at the life of a forecaster that really captured the sixth graders’ attention.
Making the forecast
When Jay Berschback walks into his office at the television studio, he’s faced with an array of 11 computers. One monitor shows the Doppler radar image, another lists weather observations from around the region. One computer furnishes forecasts from other sources and another shows computer models of weather activity.
He starts off by gathering data from a variety of sources and comparing that with the forecast made the previous night.
“It’s like gathering a big snowball,” Jay says as he squeezes an imaginary handful of flakes. “You collect a lot of data and compress it and come up with a forecast.”
In a way, test-taking didn’t end when he graduated from the University of Michigan’s meteorology program. He likens his job to preparing for a semester test—every day of the week. Test time is 5:30 a.m. when he first goes on the air.
Jay also has to come up with graphics to make the presentation look good, and there’s data he needs to type for displays on the TV screen.
It’s easy to make mistakes, he said, such as the day when he had the low temperature for the day listed as 235°.
Little mistakes are made every day, he said, but the mistakes that viewers really notice are related to his forecast.
Suppose he predicts a daytime high of 25° and it actually turns out to be 27°. Was he wrong? And suppose it turns out to be 27° in Toledo and 28° in Findlay and 26° in Morenci. Similarly, snow and rainfall amounts can vary greatly within his forecast area.
“It’s a very difficult science,” he says.
Fortunately, he has a second chance to alter his forecast at noon as conditions change. About every six hours, one of the staff meteorologists is on the air with an updated statement.
On the air
Jay is on the air and then he’s off for a few seconds while someone else is talking or an advertisement is showing.
Then it’s 5…4…3…2…1 and he’s back—with a smile.
“We could have been rolling on the floor at someone’s joke a few seconds earlier, but it’s a live show,” Jay said. “Yesterday I did two shows with the back of my suit sticking up. Nobody told me. At least I’ve never fallen on my face on camera—not yet.”
A student wonders how Jay knows where to point on the weather wall when he’s not really looking at it.
He’s actually gazing at one of the televisions positioned in his view.
“In those TVs I see exactly what you see,” he explained.
“Why is the sky blue?” asks a student. Jay prompted that question early in his talk and someone remembered to ask.
There are molecules in the air that reflect light, he says, and the main wavelength of that light making it back to our eyes is blue. The green sky sometimes seen during severe weather is due to hail, he added.
Some people can feel a change in weather.
“The human body is actually a good barometer,” Jay said, and he talked about popping knuckles. Soon there are dozens and dozens of knuckles popping throughout the middle school library.
Mention of the water cycle leads to a statement about the ancient quality of water.
“The water you drink today is the same water that dinosaurs drank,” Jay says. “The same molecules get used over and over.”
That leads to a question about dinosaur spit, but the conversation soon turns to the future of meteorology. Someone wants a prediction about what weather forecasting will become in the future.
“Forecasts are becoming more and more important,” said Jay. “They’re used a lot more often. I think you’ll see more of weather forecasts in the future and more accuracy.”
Forecasters are good within a range of three days now, he said, and that will grow to seven days and eventually 30 days. And 150 years from now?
“I think they’ll be controlling the weather,” he said.
For years, people have tried seeding clouds to produce rainfall. More recently, there have been attempts to control hurricanes by cooling water with ice and to affect tornadoes with laser beams. Look for a lot more of those attempts in the future, he said.
Jay believes control will arrive some day.
“It will rain between midnight and 6 a.m. and it will be sunny all day long,” he said about a cloudy future where humans are in complete control.
But for the present, Jay told the Morenci students to expect an inch of snow Thursday.
Actually, Morenci received about two-tenths of an inch and Toledo had three-tenths. Bryan, Dayton, Findlay…as of Saturday, none of those places have totaled an inch of snow yet this month.
But as Jay Berschback says, it’s a difficult science, and by Thursday, he undoubtedly had a revised forecast to give viewers at 5:30 that morning.- Feb. 12, 2003