Erie news meteorologist visits campus, gives lecture

Students and faculty packed into Carr Hall on Tuesday, April 4, to listen to Reed McDonough, an Erie based meteorologist, present a talk titled “Dropping Science into Weather Forecasts.” The talk was on how he found the balance in broadcast meteorology.

McDonough graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s degree in meteorology and minors in mathematics and broadcast journalism. Today, he is a meteorologist at Erie News Now and One Caribbean TV.

After McDonough told the audience a little bit about himself, he began to explain how we do not encounter a scientists in our everyday lives. Here, in college it is easy to come across scientists on a daily basis because many people attend Allegheny to study science, so it is safe to assume many of these scientists we encounter daily know what is going on in the scientific world, McDonough said.

McDonough spoke on how that was a hard thing to adjust to after studying with a group of scientists for four years. Now, he comes in contact everyday with people who know very little about science so they will believe anything that seems trustworthy.

For example, McDonough joked about how people believe in Groundhog Day too much.

“Only in America do we accept weather predictions from a rodent, but deny climate change evidence from scientists,” McDonough said.

McDonough said he loves what he does. He loves being on TV and sharing his knowledge of science with his viewers.

However, he said, “audiences tend to trust local meteorologists beyond atmospheric science.”

People are more trusting of scientists, which is good and bad. Yes, it flatters local meteorologists, but they only have a limited knowledge of science and are really only specialized to teach others about meteorology.

In order to effectively teach the information you want to convey to your audience, you need to really connect with them, according to McDonough. He said to become a good speaker, you need to be relevant to your audience and learn how to not preach the information.

“It is definitely hard to balance because you’re passionate about the topic, so it’s hard not to bombard the audience with information,” McDonough said.

The key to relating to an audience is finding the age group that watches or reads what you do. It is important to look at ethnicity, college education, salary and other statistics. McDonough talked about how Erie News Now regularly checks the statistics of their viewers so they can bring them relevant information. It is important to ask yourself how you think you appeal to the audience you are presenting to.

“I can’t be really science heavy and bombard with all of these statistics and facts if I’m speaking to people who don’t have a general understanding of science,” McDonough said. “Wherever you go your career, you need to ask yourself who are the people you are working with and who are you effecting.”

A good tactic to use is something called “elevator talk.” Elevator talk is something simple you can talk about that everyone will understand and care about. For St. Patrick’s Day weekend, McDonough knew a lot of people were going to be going out a drinking so he wanted to do a story that would talk about the climate of drinking.

He spoke to bars about where they got beer, and shed light on local breweries that are struggling because of how expensive craft beer can be. McDonough said his goal is to always cover a story that will be interesting and then link it to the environment if he can.

“Make it relatable to people’s wallets, or they’re not going to care if it’s not going to affect the economy,” he said. “Talk about what you’re doing and make it relevant to today. People don’t want numbers and facts thrown in their face, they want a story.”

Making a story catches attention and keeps people interested. The information sticks better that way, McDonough said.

“Nobody will let you know when you are right, but people will let you know when you are wrong in this business. You need to learn to build a tough shell and to not let people get to you,” McDonough said. “Be confident in your uncertainty. You need to embrace that it’s not an exact science so people will trust you more.”

After McDonough spoke about his career and what working in the business was like, he had time for questions.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Ian Carbone asked, “What kind of feedback are you getting about working more science into your broadcasts?”

McDonough responded by explaining the importance of the product overall.

“Once they saw the product, that it’s a story not just facts, they were pretty on board with it. I didn’t do many of these stories until I could make sure my audience could trust me with weather which I think was the right approach,” McDonough said.

The speech focused on presenting information in a way many people will be interested in and can relate to. The speech also centered on being  aware of the audience around you and who you  are effecting. McDonough’s audience offered positive feedback.

“In my environmental science class right now we are talking about how to present yourself in front of an audience so this talk was very eye opening,” said Alex Terasavage, ’20. “Not only did he talk about how to do so, but he also demonstrated it very well too.”