Weatherman Michael Schlesinger talks at Fayette library

By JEFF PICKELL

Being a TV weatherman isn’t as easy as it seems.

Students learned this last Thursday when Michael Schlesinger, meteorologist at NBC24 Toledo, spoke at Normal Memorial Library in Fayette.

Schlesinger, who has been involved in TV weather forecasts since he graduated from Pennsylvania State University about two decades ago, explained to listeners that workdays can be as short as four hours on a mild day. However, when the weather is extreme, there’s no telling how long he’ll have to stay at theweatherguy2 station.

As the weekend weather forecaster, Schlesinger’s Monday-through-Friday role is largely behind-the-scenes. He provides information to his fellow meteorologists, does on-the-spot reporting, and helps with miscellaneous studio work, such as operating the teleprompter.

He also does an array of public relations work, visiting schools and libraries and officiating awards ceremonies. Last week, Schlesinger was filling in for NBC24’s weekday meteorologist, who was on vacation. He described his irregular workday.

To have sufficient time to analyze weather data, a morning forecaster has to be up and about by 2:45 a.m. He or she must be in the studio by a quarter to 4 a.m. and ready to go on the air at 5 a.m.

An audience member asked what time Schlesinger had to go to bed to ensure he makes it to work on time.

“That’s a good question,” the weatherman replied. “There’s the issue of when I should go to bed and when I do go to bed. I should go to bed at about 7 p.m., but I don’t.”

Once at the TV studio, Schlesinger looks over data from between 12 and 20 sources, such as reports from local weather observers, radar readings, and transmissions from weather satellites. He then plans his forecast.

During the broadcast, Schlesinger stands in front of a blank blue screen that is invisible to the TV audience. Computers project regional weather maps onto the background and Schlesinger uses computer monitors to determine where he should gesture when explaining meteorological phenomena.

One of the major challenges of the job, Schlesinger said, is maintaining a polite and chipper attitude.

“It’s a ‘one-two-three, you’re on’ job,” he said. “In front of the camera, you’re ‘on.’ If somebody recognizes you in the supermarket, you’re ‘on.’”

TV meteorologists also exist at the whim of Mother Nature. Schlesinger keeps his weather radio—a radio continuously tuned to broadcasts from the National Weather Service—near his bed. When severe weather is brewing, the service sounds an alert. When that happens, Schlesinger drops what he’s doing and hurries to the station, even if he’s not due on air.

It’s important to have meteorological staff members on hand to provide constant updates to coworkers, he said.

Schlesinger encouraged children to inform their parents about weather radios, calling them the best way to garner early warning of tornados—which were the most popular subject of the day.

The weatherman showed footage of a tornado that devastated a trailer court when he worked at a TV station in Wichita, Kansas. Despite blaring sirens and the warnings of law enforcement officials, many of the court residents didn’t flee for cover. As a result, more than a dozen people died. He showed footage of a reporter and a cameraman taking cover from the Wichita twister beneath an overpass.

“All this is, is air. This is what we breath,” he said.

When an audience member asked if he had ever seen a cyclone cloud in person, Schlesinger replied, “No. It’s an ugly monster and I hope to God I never see one.”

If caught outside during a tornado, Schlesinger advised taking cover in a ditch or low-lying place since the majority of tornado fatalities are caused by flying debris rather than the heavy winds. When fleeing a tornado, it’s best to run at a perpendicular angle away from the direction the cloud is headed, or not to run at all, he said.

“[Being a meteorologist] is an important job because you have to stay on top of a lot of information so that you can help people remain safe,” he continued.

It was actually the urge to help that inspired him to pursue a career in meteorology.

“The first time I saw ‘The Wizard of Oz’ I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I felt bad for Dorothy and wanted her to be safe,” he said.

    – April 18, 2007
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