Meteorology senior starts on-air position six months before graduation

Jesse Westbrook
March 20, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — One of Casey Lehecka’s biggest goals before graduating was to get a job as a broadcast meteorologist. Now, with graduation still a few months away, she has already worked as a broadcast meteorologist at WJAC, an NBC affiliate in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for three months.

The journey to Lehecka’s role at WJAC began in fall 2016 during a course in weather communications.

“Our final project for the class was to design a highlight reel of short clips of our broadcasting and radio experiences,” said Lehecka.

Once finished, Lehecka and the other students submitted their highlight reels to a broadcasting professional, who then sent Casey’s to WJAC. After one interview, the company offered Lehecka the weekend meteorologist position.

“I didn’t expect to land a job like this so early,” she said. “I think it speaks to all of the hard work and long nights I’ve put in as an undergraduate.”

In addition to the weekend opportunity, Lehecka was also encouraged to fill in as needed at the station until she graduated.

“I work 20 or so hours every week, covering for some of the other meteorologists,” she said.

A day as a broadcast meteorologist

In addition to working evening shifts during the weekend, Lehecka often starts her weekdays at 2 a.m.

“The station usually sets me up in a hotel in Johnstown the night before I fill in, which allows me to get in early and prepare for the morning news,” Lehecka said.

Before the morning broadcast, she prepares her forecasts for the day, analyzes trends in weather patterns, and writes the weather stories for the station’s website and mobile app.

After that, it’s time to go live.

“I share my forecasts with our viewers a few times during each broadcast,” she said. “If there’s severe weather that I think is urgent, the producers will put me at the top of the show before the news anchors.”

Lehecka credits many of her experiences in Penn State’s Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science with preparing her for her position at WJAC, such as her time with the Campus Weather Service, which employs more than 100 students to produce professional-quality forecasts from the University Park campus for Pennsylvania audiences.

“I’ve been a part of the Campus Weather Service since I arrived at Penn State, and I’ve noticed improvement in my forecasting ability over the last few years,” she said. “It was easily the most invaluable thing for actually learning the broadcasting side.”

She admits, however, that the two aren’t always equal.

“I was so nervous for my first day at WJAC,” Lehecka said. “The pressure to provide accurate forecasts and to do it on live television is a big factor, but the other meteorologists, news anchors and staff that I work with have been so helpful and nice to me since I started. It’s a humbling experience.”

Balancing school and work a privilege

Despite enrolling for only eight credits during the spring semester, Lehecka has found balancing her coursework with her responsibilities at WJAC to be challenging.

“I’ve become a very organized person so that I can get my studying and homework done around my time at WJAC,” she said. “But sometimes I have to do an assignment on my breaks at the station.”

Lehecka also mentors students at Park Forest Middle School as a way to give back to the local community.

“Another perk of being a broadcast meteorologist is that I’m a figure in the public, so the students recognize me when I interact with them,” said Lehecka. “It’s such a rewarding experience.”

Now in her final semester as an undergraduate, Lehecka struggles to find free time, but she says she wouldn’t change a thing.

“This whole experience has taught me to never turn down an opportunity, even if comes unexpectedly. It could change your life in a big way,” she said.

  • Casey Lehecka

    Casey Lehecka, a senior majoring in meteorology, has already worked as a broadcast meteorologist at WJAC, an NBC affiliate in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for three months.

    IMAGE: Casey Lehecka/WJAC-TV

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Last Updated March 20, 2017