Our Precipitating Change project has been exploring the science of weather and weather prediction with students in Alaska. We’ve been assisted by someone many Alaska students recognize, Jackie Purcell, chief meteorologist at KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage. Jackie gets around, and not just on television. At the Alaska State Fair, “I run into folks from all over the state,” she says. “I’ve been invited to birthday parties, retirement parties.” Since she appears in their living rooms every night, they feel they know her, a response she describes as “an honor.”
Working with our partner Good Life Productions, Jackie created seven short videos not only about weather, but about how she came to her career reporting on weather, which she’s been doing for over 30 years. The videos accompany lessons in analyzing data, making predictions, modeling fronts, identifying air masses, and other weather topics that serve as a vehicle to improving students’ computational thinking skills.
Each video begins with an informal chat about her work and career. Jackie began reporting radio and television news after graduating from Gonzaga University. But when a harried meteorologist at KTUU asked if she wanted to take over reporting the weekend weather, she discovered she enjoyed it, and went on to receive additional education in meteorology from Mississippi State University and professional accreditations from the National Weather Association and the American Meteorological Society.
She hopes seeing her on television will encourage more young women to seek careers in STEM fields. “My mom always said, never be afraid to ask for what you want, because you never know,” she laughs.
With “Let’s talk about weather now,” Jackie easily transitions the videos to the science content: how weather disturbances migrate across the Pacific or the meaning of dew point or how climate change has affected Alaska’s weather. As in her nightly reporting, she tries to balance her presentations so they stay interesting and accessible. “There are all sorts of ways to demonstrate weather systems,” she explains. She had help from Good Life Productions for the instructional videos, but when she’s on air, she does it all: creates weather graphics, chooses videos and photos, and writes the script. “It’s just me,” she says. And at Halloween, she even does her special “floating head weather.”
“Climate is huge in rural areas,” she explains, especially since warming has led to coastal erosion, permafrost thaw, disappearing sea ice, and retreating glaciers. For 30 years Jackie has been a teacher of sorts on television, helping Alaskans understand the impact of weather on their everyday lives—from sea ice travel warnings to expected State Fair weather—but now, through her videos, she’s instructing, and inspiring, a younger generation of students.