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May-June 2016

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On the Job: Dylan Dreyer: National Television Meteorologist

Dylan Dreyer is the weather anchor for NBC's Weekend Today. She also provides weekend weather reports for MSNBC, covers weather stories for the NBC Nightly News, and fills in for Al Roker for the Today show. Before joining NBC, Dylan had been a meteorologist at WHDH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts; WJAR-TV in Providence, Rhode Island; and WICU-TV in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Had you always planned to be a TV meteorologist?

I actually went to school for engineering. Rutgers University had a great engineering department. But as I was going through all my core requirements, I decided I didn't have a field of engineering I wanted to get into. All my credits transferred over to meteorology, and I've always been fascinated by weather, so I decided this was the perfect way to use all that math and physics. I was going to go into research meteorology or long range forecasts for energy trading, but going into my senior year I had an internship at WCBS in New York. That's when I decided, wow, I really like this whole forecasting all day and then getting to talk about it to anyone who will listen to me.

Is there a geographic area or weather regime you're most comfortable forecasting?

My favorite type of weather to be out in and study and follow, I would say, is more summertime weather; hurricanes, and thunderstorms, and severe weather. But I've always sort of worked in the Northeast, so winter storms are more my bread and butter. I know what to follow. I know the elements I'm looking for. I know the typical places where that rain/snow line is going to set up, and who's going to get the snow, and who's going to get the rain. So I would say I'm best forecasting winter weather, but I like standing out in summer weather and hurricane weather a little bit better.

What weather events have you covered that stand out as particularly memorable?

So, last year I was in Bermuda for Hurricane Joaquin. You look at the map, and Bermuda is this small little island out in the Atlantic. I'm watching this category 3 hurricane, and I'm like, “How is this going to happen? How is everything going to be OK?” So I went to my hotel room as the front end of the storm hit with winds like I had never seen, rain like I had never seen before. When the eye of the storm hit, it was dark, and I could see the stars, and it was the calmest I've ever experienced. But then the back side of the storm, which is much more intense than the front side of the storm, hits. The windows were shaking. The curtains were blowing because the windows were starting to bow. My bed was shaking. I hunkered down in the bathroom, and the door was opening and closing on its own, and it was just the scariest moment of my life. Then the next morning I'm explaining this whole situation to everybody, and they're like, “Well yeah, you're just supposed to sleep in the bathtub, that's just what you do during these storms.”

Your Twitter feed is a random mix of everything from pictures of your notes to quips on the way you eat your breakfast. Does having a large audience so intimately aware of your daily life take getting used to?

It does, and I think it happens slowly. When I was working in Boston, that's kind of when I got into the whole Twitter thing, and Instagram. It was what resonates with people. First of all, it was, “Well why does anybody care what I have to Tweet about?” So it started off much more weather related, but then as you just kind of got used to being out there in the public talking weather and chit chatting back and forth with people, it just sort of happened. I'm a very open person, so it was like, “Well let's take a picture of what I'm eating for dinner,” or “I have a random thought, let me just Tweet it out there,” and all of a sudden you start Tweeting out more personal things. The response I get back from that is much more than what I get when it's just weather. You know from my experience, everybody's really nice and they kind of like to see the behind the scenes of my life and of work.

You studied for a career in science, but your job is focused on entertainment as much as meteorology. Have you always been an entertainer at heart?

No, not at all. I am so shy. I am so self-conscious. I'm perpetually nervous for everything I'm going to do, whether it's interviewing someone or just being on TV. Someone told me once, when you lose that nervous energy it's time to leave the business, because it's that energy that keeps you going. I get nervous, but I power through it, and I'm just me. Fortunately it seems it's resonated well with people, and I'm just kind of going with it. I have to go out there and be me because if I go up and try to be something I'm not, I'll always kick myself if it doesn't work.

Do you ever feel pulled between dual roles of being an entertainer and a forecaster?

When there are storms, my first and foremost role with NBC News is to go out and cover the storm. For the Today show, for Nightly News, for MSNBC, for everything, I'm a meteorologist. I know what I'm talking about when I'm out there. But there are times where I may be filling in for Al Roker, or maybe I have a celebrity interview that day, and that's when I think, “Well the celebrity interview is really fun, and filling in for Al's really fun, but weather's my thing, so which one am I supposed to do, where does NBC see me?” But when the storm's big enough, it's always, “Let's go out and cover the storm,” and then once I'm in it, it's back to the bread and butter of what I do. The bigger the storm, the more likely I am out covering it, and that's where I want to be.

Reporting from the field looks exciting. Does it concern you that it may encourage weather enthusiasts to take risks?

It does. I'm usually in the Bloom Mobile, NBC's roving satellite vehicle. And I'm on the roads telling people to stay off the roads, or I could be standing out in 30 below wind chills telling people, “Don't stand out in 30 below wind chills.” People will call me out on Twitter and say, “Well if you're telling us not to do this, why are you doing it?” I hope people know that I'm not standing out in 30 below wind chills for hours at a time. Our live shot is about two minutes long. I go out, I do my live shot, then I'm right back inside in the warm temperatures. Same with winter storms, you know we're driving about 10 miles per hour and if it's bad we'll pull over, and I'm with a whole crew of people in very heavy trucks. I guess I'm out there so other people don't have to be. I'm proving to you why you don't have to be, but it is still television and you need that visual sometimes.

You get to do some pretty cool things as part of your job. What's one of your favorite perks you've enjoyed?

It's so wild to think about the stuff I've done since I've been here. My brother is an amputee, and he's a huge fan of the Wounded Warrior amputee softball team. So I worked out this whole [TV] story with the Wounded Warrior amputee softball team, and they said “Well, we have a game in Fenway Park. What if he pitches for our team when we play up there?” My brother's a veteran and a huge Red Sox fan. After the game they told him, “We want you to be on the team full time.” He now plays for the team, and he travels all over the country and raises awareness for Wounded Warriors and children who are amputees. This job has let me change my brother's life for the better. As a sister, to be able to do anything for my brother who was dealt a bad hand, you know, that was definitely the most rewarding thing I've done.

There are many examples of older, male TV meteorologists, but not females. Do you think that will change, and do you see yourself staying in it for a long time?

I would hope so. I'm only 34, and I don't think I could really top where I am right now. I've been doing it for three and a half years now, and it is just the absolute best thing I've ever done in my career. I think women are getting a lot more opportunity in this field, and we have something to offer that's maybe a little bit different. I don't think it matters if you're male or female as long as you resonate with the audience and build a connection with the audience and people like you. I think there are a lot more females in the business that are going to give it a shot now, and hopefully we can stand the test of time. I think we're just starting to turn the tide.

KIMBRA CUTLIP is a freelance writer and former assistant editor for Weatherwise.

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