I’ve had an interest in weather since I was a small child. Growing up in St. Louis exposes a person to nearly every type of weather there is, and I was always in awe of weather forecasters, especially on TV. Their ability to predict the weather before it happened amazed me. I also had a keen interest in science and geography. Those interests go hand in hand in the world of weather. I obtained my meteorology degree from Saint Louis University and I’ve been working in television weather since 2005.
I’ve worked all over the country – mostly in Missouri, but also in Texas and Colorado. When I graduated, I went to work in Grand Junction, Colorado, which was my first time living outside of St. Louis. I was in the Columbia/Jefferson City area twice, and did the morning weather in El Paso, Texas. I came back to St. Louis in 2012, and now I’m on my second stint here.
What’s your typical schedule?
My typical day starts at about 1:45 in the morning. I’m usually up at that time and out the door by 2:10 or 2:15 a.m. I get to work quickly as I live close to downtown. After a cup of coffee, I immediately start on the forecast. It’s very fast-paced work until 4 a.m., then it’s the news until 7 a.m., and weather updates during the “Today Show” from 7 to 10 a.m. I typically work until 11 a.m. or sometimes noon. Most days average out to eight hours, but on severe weather days we can be working upwards of 12 hours or more. When I’m home, I do take a nap, and spend time with my family. I try to be in bed by 8 p.m.
What's the most challenging aspect of your job?
Besides waking up very, very early...honestly it’s just making sure I get the forecast as correct as possible. St. Louis weather is wild. It changes quickly and can be quite violent. My hope every day is to be as right as possible with the forecast. This doesn’t mean taking the forecast from somewhere else and repacking it for television, but actually taking time to look at model data and comparing forecast information.
The weather isn’t scripted; all of our live weather broadcasts are ad-libbed. In fact, I don’t know a lot of television meteorologists who use a script at all! We have a set time to fill, and we basically time out our weather graphics at a rough estimate, trying to stay within the time parameters. Sometimes you don’t make it to the end, but when you do over 1,000 forecasts in a year, you get used to timing things out.
What's it like to be on air when severe weather strikes? How do you handle fast-paced changes?
Severe weather is a big challenge for any forecaster, whether on TV or not. We depend heavily on the national weather services and from viewer information during severe weather events. Waiting for information and talking about what you see from weather observation networks can be a challenge while broadcasting on live TV. Often we are receiving information at the same time as we are conveying it to the public. Severe weather requires you to think quickly, be able to make decisions on the fly, and also remain calm and communicate clearly – all at the same time. It’s not easy!
You were gone from our TVs for some months. Why did you leave St. Louis, and what brought you back?
I left St. Louis because how can you turn down New Zealand!?! The adventure was too tempting. I went there to work for a company owned by the government – it was the national weather forecaster for the government and country of New Zealand, but we also had media clients in Australia, Southeast Asia, and some in Europe, and we did weather consulting for oil and gas companies, energy companies, and even a grocery store chain in the U.K. We provided public forecasts for the country on our app and website, and distributed weather graphics information.
I came back to St. Louis for family, as I now have a partner and a little one, who was born here in St. Louis. We wanted to be closer to family.
Tell us a little more about your time in New Zealand. What were your favorite aspects of both work and play?
I lived in Wellington, the capitol, for a short 20 months – it went by way too fast! Wellington is like a small version of San Francisco or Portland. It has lots of hills, is green and lush, doesn’t snow, and doesn’t get hot (not above the lower 80 degrees). The mountains are nearby, so you can go hiking in a cooler environment, and the ski fields are a four- to five-hour drive away. There are beaches in summer (although the water is cold). It’s just the perfect place to do anything outdoors.
New Zealand afforded me the opportunity to see places I would’ve never gone to on my own. I had a chance to travel across one of the most unique landscapes in the world. There are animals and plants that can only be found on the island country. It was incredible. I met people from all over the world, I learned a lot about other cultures, and I had a chance to forecast weather in an environment that is unlike anything you’ll find in the Midwest United States. Mountain and island meteorology can be just as difficult to forecast as a tornado outbreak in St. Louis. Culturally, New Zealand is a more relaxed environment compared to the United States. There was a greater emphasis on making the best of your time off from work. So when it was time to play, you went to play! That means enjoying the outdoors, dinners in town, or coffee with family and friends.
We know you are from St. Louis, so... where'd you go to high school? And what are your top three "quintessentially St. Louis" things to see or do (or eat!) that you recommend?
Ah, the high school question. You can never get away from that one in St. Louis. I grew up within the city of St. Louis, but I’m a Parkway Central High School graduate. St. Louis must-dos are the clichés of a baseball game at Busch, a trip to Ted Drewes, and a day spent in Forest Park. Truthfully, three isn’t enough!
When and where can we see you on air?
I’m on every Monday to Friday on Newschannel 5, basically from 4 a.m. until 7 a.m. From 7 a.m. until 10 a.m. you’ll see me on the local forecast after Al Roker from the “Today Show” says his famous, “Here is what’s happening in your neck of the woods.”
Karen Hill is a Florissant native who spent over a decade in communications at the Missouri Botanical Garden. She's currently a SAHM to three young children and owner of Olive + Peony children's clothing boutique. Her family resides in Kirkwood.