FORECASTING WITHOUT FEAR

May 24, 2010

Maine At Work: Sharp eye, good memory can serve as weatherman’s best tools

Reporter Ray Routhier learns to keep it simple as he gets ready for WGME’s evening newscasts.

Watch Ray Routhier report on the weather.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND —  One of the first things I had to learn about being a TV meteorologist was how to let people see what you’re talking about when you can’t.

click image to enlarge

Ray Routhier, a reporter for The Portland Press Herald, works with WGME-TV meteorologist Charlie Lopresti, who helped Routhier prepare to present the weather segment. Lopresti said to avoid using jargon and to instead focus on how the forecast might affect the viewers’ day.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

ABOUT THIS SERIES

MAINE AT WORK takes an interactive look at iconic, visible or just plain interesting jobs done by folks in Maine. Reporter Ray Routhier shadows a worker or workers, reports what he sees and tries his hand at some of the job’s duties.

IF YOU’D like to suggest a job to be explored in this feature, e-mail rrouthier@pressherald.com or call 791-6454.

 

THIS WEEK’S JOB

TITLE: Chief meteorologist for Portland CBS affiliate WGME-TV (Channel 13).

WORKER: Charlie Lopresti, 32, of Buxton.

HOURS: 2 p.m. to 11:45 p.m., five days a week.

DUTIES: Using a variety of technologies to create weather forecasts for the 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, plus the station’s website, several radio stations and The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. (WGME and the newspapers are media partners.)

STARTING SALARY: About $40,000 a year.

SURPRISING FACTS: Sometimes your eyes can trump technology – the night I shadowed Lopresti, he received a report of clear skies at the Portland International Jetport, but a quick visit to the station’s parking lot around 9 p.m. convinced him all of Portland had some pretty thick cloud cover. Also, Lopresti doesn’t use a teleprompter – everything he says on air is from memory.

PERKS:

For weather buffs, having all that technology at your disposal and getting a good feeling when you call a storm right.

 

Charlie Lopresti – chief meteorologist at Portland CBS affiliate WGME-TV (Channel 13) – said I should begin my night on the job by practicing how to use the “green screen.” It’s basically a blank screen that TV folks stand in front of so that various images can be displayed behind them on air.

So I stood in front of the green screen, looked at it and saw nothing. Then I turned around and saw myself, and a weather map, on a monitor about 10 feet in front of me.

“You’re blocking out the state of Maine, which is not good when giving a forecast for Maine,” said Lopresti. “But remember, it’s sort of like looking in a mirror. If you want to shift your position on screen to one side, you actually have to move to the other side.”

Huh?

I tried moving all the way to one side, but I still covered eastern portions of Maine, from Bar Harbor to Canada. Then I moved so far to the other side that only part of my head was still on screen. Lopresti told me not to worry, I’d get the hang of it.

As I practiced, I could see not only the maps and graphics in front of me, but also a monitor on each side of me. A trick Lopresti taught me was that if you turn toward one of those side monitors and point at it, to viewers it sort of looks like you’re pointing at a spot on the map. When I tried to point to Waterville for the first time, I realized I was instead pointing somewhere closer to Farmington.

“After a while this all becomes second nature. When I first started, it took some getting used to. The presentation stuff was hard to learn,” said Lopresti, 32, who has a degree in meteorology from Plymouth (N.H.) State University.

“I had originally thought I was going to work on the research side of weather, but that was mostly crunching numbers. I like forecasting.”

When I went to see Lopresti, he was preparing his late-night forecasts in his weather office, using computer forecasting models on various computer screens.

Some were from the U.S. government, some were from other countries, some were from weather companies. Most of the satellite images and maps Lopresti showed me looked to my untrained eye like a mass of color and scribbled lines.

But as Lopresti went over the data, he’d see findings he didn’t agree with and mutter,  “This model is out to lunch.” He did this at one point when he got a report from an automated station at the Portland International Jetport showing clear skies at 9 p.m.

All the other information he had indicated that Greater Portland was shrouded in heavy clouds, and he had already planned to include this fact in his 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. forecasts.

“Sometimes the human eye is better than this stuff,” said Lopresti, as he led me out of the studio and into the station’s darkened parking lot on Washington Avenue. We walked 100 yards from the building and confirmed it was indeed cloudy.

I learned that Lopresti tries hard to use everyday language in his forecasts and stay away from weather-speak like “barometric pressure.” People just want to know if it’s going to rain, and how that affects their day, he told me.

As he said this, it occurred to him that he should personalize his upcoming forecast – a chance of rain late in the day the next day.

(Continued on page 2)

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