A Conversation with KCTV5 Meteorologist, Alena Lee
Q: When did you decide to be a meteorologist?
AL: I was in my Spring semester of college at Arizona State University. I had the opportunity to forecast the weather one day a week for our nightly newscast, Cronkite News that aired on the PBS affiliate. I had no idea what I was getting myself into because before that semester I had my heart set on being a reporter. I knew I wanted to be a reporter or storyteller since I was probably in middle school. I loved to write as a kid and would spend hours in my room just journaling or writing stories. But once I got involved in forecasting and learning the ins and outs of what it takes to be an on-air meteorologist I was hooked.
Q: How much data do you look at when developing a weather forecast?
AL: The number one rule as a meteorologist is to look outside. After that I’ll look at surface maps/current conditions and compare them to what the models were suggesting would happen at that particular time. That helps determine which model has a better handle on what would likely happen in the near-term. On a day-to-day basis I would say I use at least five different models to help me forecast. Some only go out 18-48 hours while others can go 200-300+ hours out. The data gets a bit murkier the farther out you look, so that’s why having experience in the area you forecast for can help tremendously.
Q: How long does it take to come up with a forecast?
AL: On average I would say it takes anywhere between 30 minutes up to one hour to put together a forecast. It just depends on what’s going on that day or what is expected. If we have a complicated forecast like severe weather or snow, then it can take a bit longer.
Q: Is there any pressure to get the forecast right for big holiday weekends when people make plans dependent upon the weather?
AL: Absolutely! There’s always way more pressure around Thanksgiving and Christmas travel forecasts because big snowstorms can be detrimental for anyone traveling on the road or in the air. I would say snow forecasts in general are the most stressful. And after being here for over five years I know how critical it is to get those totals right!
Q: Can you share with our audience one of your most memorable weather events you’ve covered?
AL: I would have to say May 28, 2019. Also known as the Linwood Tornado. I had only been with KCTV5 for eight months and was not on-air that day but was given the task to work with our assignment editors/managers and help position our reporter/photographer crews out in the field. I was watching the storm on radar while also keeping up with where our crews were in relation to the storm. I had to give specific instructions to our crews to keep them from harm’s way, but also try to get them close enough to the storm to capture footage from a safe distance. That was the first time in my career I was ever given that responsibility, and I’m thankful that no one was hurt.
Q: Is there one season of the year that's easier or harder to forecast?
AL: I think the more time you spend in an area the easier it gets to know what to expect from season to season. But even then, there will be at least one or two events that those who have been forecasting for decades will get stumped on. No two storms are exactly the same. But if I had to pick one season, I would say winter weather can be a beast in the Kansas City area. The most stressed out I’ve ever been is when I have to forecast for the first big snow event of the year. There always seems to be a little more pressure on that very first snowfall. I lean on a bit more of a conservative side when I give out numbers, because I do not like to scare-cast or wish-cast. I try to be as realistic as possible, but I also am not afraid to admit when I’m not as confident in a forecast. The data can change from day to day, run to run, and I think our viewers know that when we forecast for the upcoming weekend on a Monday the numbers might not be the same by the time we give the forecast on Friday.
Q: How many times are you out in public and have people come up and complain about or ask you questions about the weather?
AL: I have this theory that people who shop at Costco are the ones who watch local news or are watching news in general. I’ve had more people stop me in a Costco than anywhere else! But it’s not too often. I’m usually at Costco once a week and I’ll probably get noticed maybe on my third or fourth trip there. Thankfully, I haven’t had too many people ever complain to me, but they do ask questions about the weather, and I appreciate that!
Q: Do you get an adrenaline rush when all those watches and warnings start popping up?
AL: There’s definitely an adrenaline rush when that first tornado warning gets issued. And that rush lasts for at least an hour or two once you’re in wall-to-wall coverage, especially if you’re solo. There is so much that goes through your head when tracking severe weather from where the storm is, where it’s headed, and when. Then to think about am I looking at the camera enough? Am I being intentional when I’m pointing to an area on the map? Are the graphics I’m using tell the best weather story and give the best information? Do I sound monotone? Did what I just say make sense? What else can I add to this coverage that is different or more useful to those in the storm’s path? Is this a big enough threat that we need to stay on the air? Or do I need to make this quick and return our viewers to their regular programming? That’s just a small fraction of all of the questions and thoughts that run through my head while in the middle of severe weather coverage.
Q: Do you have any advice you can share for those women who may want to pursue a career as a Meteorologist?
AL: I would give this advice for anyone, man, or woman, you have to have thick skin. At least in the broadcast world. Unfortunately, there are still complete strangers who believe their negative opinion matters and they tend to share those opinions while hiding behind a screen. But as for women who want to pursue a career as a meteorologist, go for it! Don’t let the science or math parts scare you away. I didn’t know how much I loved meteorology until I made a career out of it. I wish I had known that I wanted to be a meteorologist a lot sooner, then I wouldn’t have had to go back to school while working full-time.
Q: Have you ever had that the one embarrassing moment on TV you can share with us?
AL: I would say I probably have one embarrassing moment every time I’m on air! Most of those moments are small, for example when I show up on camera when I’m not ready. Or the one time I accidentally walked behind my anchor, and I thought the camera wasn’t on. I tried to be sneaky about it too, which made it worse! But it’s definitely one of those moments I can look back on and laugh at every time. I’ll never forget the time I was at the Power and Light District interviewing fans before Super Bowl LIV when I asked a guy for his prediction on the score, and he yelled a four letter curse word into my microphone. I immediately pulled the mic away and apologized, but boy was that an uncomfortable situation to be in! But when the alcohol is flowing on a Sunday at 11:00 a.m. in Chiefs Kingdom you have to expect some people will say some crazy things!
Q: Tell us how you manage your work life balance with your busy schedule.
AL: After doing this for nearly ten years it’s still a work in progress. When your schedule changes so frequently it’s hard to get into a routine. But right now, my schedule is somewhat consistent. I can get some things done before I go to work, or I’ll hold off on errands until my “weekend.” I tend to get distracted easily so some of those errands take days if not weeks to accomplish.
Nine Things About Meteorologist Alena Lee
1. What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
Relax at home and watch a horror film. I know that might sound strange, because no one is usually relaxed when watching horror movies or thrillers. But I find when you’ve seen most of them they don’t scare you anymore. I especially don’t react much to jump-scares
2. Among your friends, what are you best known for?
I think I’m best known for my honesty, bluntness, and dark sense of humor
3. Best and worst flavor ice cream?
Best flavor is Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked, worst is green tea
4. What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
5. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I’m definitely a night owl. I’ve tried to force myself to be a morning person, but I can’t seem to wake up before 9:00 a.m. unless I set an alarm.
6. Favorite Dessert?
7. Which of the five senses would you say is your strongest?
My hearing is by far the strongest.
8. Would you rather cook or order in?
I would rather cook because at least I know the food will still be hot by the time I eat it!
9. Cake or pie?
Cake 1000%! I don’t do hot fruit.