OPEN MIKE FROM DANIEL JOHNSON

How To Train A Meteorologist (Virtually)

WMDT Salisbury, Md., hired a new meteorologist during the pandemic, prompting a novel approach to on-the-job training.

On-the-job training was never meant to look like this.

At WMDT, a Marquee Broadcasting-owned ABC affiliate in Salisbury, Md. covering the Delmarva Peninsula, we had just hired a new meteorologist. Her name was Sloane Haines, a student at Florida State University just wrapping up her senior year.

I’m the chief meteorologist, and so partially responsible for onboarding our new hires. Normally, it’s a straightforward process. We would have Haines train in-person for a week on my evening shift and then train in-person for one week on her future morning shift. It’s the best way to get a new meteorologist familiar with all of our newscasts.

Only now, we were in a pandemic, working either remotely or in studio with social distancing in full effect. Haines, moving from New Jersey (where she was finishing up classes online) to Florida, was compelled to quarantine at home for 14 days after her arrival.

We debated whether we should just delay her start date by two weeks but opted instead to virtualize the training. The challenge: how to translate a process that’s typically 95% hands on.

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Our reporters were already doing most of their interviews virtually through Zoom or Skype. That inspired me and my news director to work together with our engineering department to devise a virtual training strategy.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Each day, Haines and I would use a number of forecast models for a couple of hours at the outset of our shift to develop the seven-day forecasts you see on your TV or on your weather apps. After we complete our forecasting, we compare them, and then the real training begins.

We utilized an app called Splashtop, allowing her to log in remotely to our weather graphics computer. There, she could see me building graphics on my own screen back at the studio. From her remote setup, Haines could work on the graphics and put together an entire weather hit for the newscast along with writing a weather discussion for the website. She even learned to cut weather video remotely from the newscast to post online.

After completing those tasks and with newscast time approaching, Haines would call me on Facetime, where she’d stay with me through the entire hour-long newscast. At the same time, she was also watching the newscast from home either on her TV, streaming on our website or Facebook. We did this so that she could see both the live broadcast and the behind-the-scenes action simultaneously.

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At each commercial break. I would check in with her about questions. Throughout the newscast, Haines would also stay logged in to our weather graphics system in case I needed her to make any changes to my graphics. Once the show ended, we were able to discuss the show and debrief her graphics work.

After forecasting, we know presenting is one of the most important roles for a meteorologist. Haines was losing out on precious green screen practice time. But as many meteorologists across the country were already presenting from home, we simply adapted her practice to do just that.

After an hour-long dinner break, Haines and I would Facetime again to get the show ready for the latenight newscast. Once that show was prepared, I had her pretend she was on TV doing the forecast from home. While on Facetime and still logged in remotely to our graphics system, she presented the weather for me. I timed her forecasts to make sure the timing matched up with our shows, and I was able to give her feedback on her performance.

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For two straight weeks we did this training, each day getting smoother. We fell into a solid training rhythm, despite never meeting in person. When Haines completed her quarantine, she started training in person and made her on-air debut on her third day. Thanks to technology and ingenuity, the virtual training process added less than a week’s delay to getting her on air. We even spotlight the process for a feature in our morning show.

Working remotely through the pandemic has been a period of constant adaptation. There’s still much uncertainty over what will return to pre-COVID normalcy and what will stay permanently virtualized. At WMDT, we’re now ready to add virtual training to that list if necessary.

Daniel Johnson is chief meteorologist at WMDT Salisbury, Md.


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