Forecaster Sarah Fortner dishes about studying meteorology

Heidi Finley

Meteorologist Sarah Fortner hangs with students at West Charlotte High School. Photo courtesy of Fortner

NBC Charlotte meteorologist Sarah Fortner says her profession involves more than appearing on camera to talk about the weather.

“Being a TV meteorologist is so much more these days than getting on air for 3 minutes to say the next chance for rain — after all, you already know that if you have a smart phone,” said Fortner, who also blogs about the weather and life at sarahfortnerwx.com.

Accurately tracking storms can help in life or death situations, and the weather also affects people’s livelihoods.

“The acknowledgement of impactful weather started for me at a young age. My dad is a potato farmer in north Florida — therefore I grew up always aware of a forecast,” she said .

“I decided to go to Florida State before I decided to major in meteorology.  I lucked out that one of my college picks happens to have one of the best programs in the country.”

She went on to start out her career on air in Zanesville, Ohio, before moving onto a TV station in Little Rock, Arkansas, and then Charlotte. Fortner is a member of the National Weather Association and the American Meteorological Society as a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist.

Fortner, who recently spoke to students at West Charlotte High School, also shared her thoughts on studying meteorology with Carolina College Bound.

Meteorologist Sarah Fortner speaks to Charlotte high school students. Photo courtesy of Fortner

Fortner’s advice for students considering a career in meteorology:

What should students look for in a meteorology program?

“Take a long hard look at the course load. Also find a professor in the program and have honest conversation about options after graduation. Asking a senior is always a good option if you have access to them.”

 

What kinds of classes are involved? 

“I had no idea all the math and physics I signed up for when I wanted to earn this degree. Essentially in your first 2-3 years, you’re an engineering major. It’s not until junior/senior year that you start applying weather to all the coursework.

“Also be prepared to be humbled. The field is competitive. I started with about 80-90 kids in the major and graduated with just around 20; 4 of which were girls.”

 

What are some careers that meteorology students can go into and/or places they can work?

“Meteorology jobs aren’t easy to stumble across, but if you put in some work they are certainly there. Airports, airlines, shipping companies (think FedEx, UPS, etc.) all have teams of meteorologists. Oil rigs and wind farms also employ meteorologists.

“If you decide to go into broadcasting, be prepared for an evolving field. TV weather people are a thing of a past, and now we’re forced to think multi-platform. Social media IS broadcasting information, just like going on-air for television; so that is a big part of my job now.”

 

What do you love about meteorology?

“Everyone needs to know the weather, so meteorology will always be relevant.  Whether it’s an inconvenient drive to work or a deadly tornado — someone needs to know and it matters.

“I love science and I still get wide-eyed when it snows, or when a hurricane makes landfall. Every morning, or night, my job is to educate people on the atmosphere around them. My job combines science education and serving people — two of my favorite things,” Fortner said.

 

Heidi Finley is the editor of Carolina College Bound. Send questions or suggestions to hfinley@charlotteobserver.com