Best birthday ever: 12-year-old weather fanatic gets to meet meteorology hero

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As he flipped through the book his mother made him for his 12th birthday, Cullen Slattery wasn’t sure what to think. Across the front were the words "Cullen’s Birthday Adventure," and inside were pictures of AccuWeather, where his favorite meteorologist, Bernie Rayno, works.

“I get a tour of AccuWeather's offices for my birthday?” he asked his mom, Jennifer Slattery.

“Take another look.”

“I get to meet with Bernie Rayno?”

After seeing an affirmative nod from his mother, Cullen was speechless.

“I felt like my heart dropped down into my stomach,” Cullen said.

For Cullen, weather is an inseparable part of life. Every morning he spends half an hour looking at AccuWeather, the Weather Channel, NOAA and the National Weather Service. When he has free time in school, he’s on the computer looking at forecasts or learning about meteorology topics. Watching Penn State meteorology alumnus Bernie Rayno’s in-depth forecast videos and periscopes, live streaming videos, is a key feature of his evening weather routine. In all, Cullen says he spends “around 300 minutes” every day looking at or thinking about the weather.

He has been fascinated with the weather since a young age, his mom said.

“When he was around 6, he started to write down his forecasts every day in a book and check them the next day,” she said.

His forecasts are a far cry from making guesses. He uses data from multiple sources.

“I use different parts of the North American Model, the GFS (Global Forecast System) and the Euro model,” he said.

His dream is to one day create a way to integrate the best parts of the most well-known models so that he’s able to output a more accurate forecast of the weather.

He has been able to develop a foundation in some of the fundamental concepts of meteorology, from jet streams to the El Nino Southern Oscillation, in part because of watching Rayno’s videos in which Rayno not only forecasts but also explains conceptually how he got to that conclusion. Cullen has soaked up that knowledge and has increased his forecasting skill.

Bernie Rayno in the morning

On October 9, two days after receiving that book, Cullen and his mom were in State College, Pennsylvania. They showed up at AccuWeather's offices at 7:15 a.m. to meet with Rayno, chief video meteorologist and lead forecaster for AccuWeather. AccuWeather was founded by Penn State alumnus Joel Myers, who serves as president and chairman of the company today.

Cullen and his mom shadowed Rayno during his morning routine in which he produces live and prerecorded weather segments for AccuWeather. They went into the production studio with Rayno and his on-air partner, Laura Velasquez, while the duo were live on-air. Cullen was even helped record Rayno's segments.

Cullen and his mom were able to visit in person with Rayno in part because of the Penn State meteorology network.

"I just wanted to inspire him," she said. "I remember being in seventh grade. I had the opportunity to meet and shadow a professional, and that's when I found my passion for journalism."

Two months before her son's birthday, Slattery posted a note on the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' Facebook page. She was looking for a connection with any meteorologist between Boston and Washington that her son could shadow. His heroes were Rayno and the Weather Channel's Tom Niziol and Carl Parker.

“Do you know a meteorologist (one who loves winter weather and/or went to Penn State would be awesome but not being picky) who might be willing to do this?” she wrote.

Within a few hours, the college reached out to let her know Rayno was not only a Penn State alumnus but was also friends with multiple faculty members in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science. Jon Nese, associate head of undergraduate programs in the department, reached out to Rayno, who said he was "honored" to meet with Cullen for his birthday.

"I wanted to be a meteorologist since I could remember. Cullen wants to be one, and I can tell by his passion that he’s going to be one. If I can help in any way, it's an honor and a privilege,” Rayno said.

"My favorite part of the morning was meeting Bernie Rayno. Going on air was also fun, and so was meeting Bernie's partner, Laura," Cullen said.

Campus Weather Service in the afternoon

Cullen already has his heart set on Penn State for his degree, so his mom also was able to help him connect with students from the student-run Campus Weather Service forecasting group in the afternoon. Meteorology students Andy Moffitt, Noah Bergren and Paul Mykolajtchuk gave him a tour of the Joel N. Myers Weather Center and chatted about meteorology in front of the weather wall.

"You can tell he feels right at home talking about the weather with these students," his mom said during the visit.

The students gave him a tour of their production studio, and Cullen even had the chance to record his own forecast, which he brought home as a digital souvenir.

“I loved showing Cullen our operation,” said Bergren. “The feeling I got seeing his eyes light up when I shared my passion of weather and broadcasting with him was priceless. I am a big advocate for encouraging younger kids to be interested in STEM careers — but if the future of our field is as bright as Cullen is, we are in store for truly remarkable things.”

“I think it's very important to show the next generation of aspiring scientists all of the interesting tools and resources available to them as they enter this field, and with Cullen's passion I'm sure he can't wait to start taking classes in this subject that he loves,” said Moffitt. “This was a great experience for me as well, as it was essentially a look back into my past self, seeing someone as passionate about the weather as I was at that age.”

For Cullen, the day was an unforgettable experience.

“That was the best birthday present ever,” he said.

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Last Updated October 31, 2017