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Women on weather

Boston TV stations turning over key morning shifts to female meteorologists

Meteorologist Dylan Dreyer has helped WHDH-TV boost morning ratings among viewers ages 25-54. Meteorologist Dylan Dreyer has helped WHDH-TV boost morning ratings among viewers ages 25-54. (David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff)
By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / June 1, 2010

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Boston meteorologist Dylan Dreyer sits in the weather station at WHDH-TV Channel 7, surrounded by seven computer monitors that flash temperature maps for New England cities.

On a recent spring morning, she delivered her forecast: sunny weather, with temperatures in the upper 60s and lower 70s.

“People are basing their whole day on the forecast you make that morning,’’ Dreyer said. “There is a level of responsibility when people watch in the morning.’’

There’s a new weather pattern emerging in Boston: For the first time, all five of the meteorologists on Boston’s early-morning and midday newscasts are women. Stations have recruited and elevated more women from less-coveted weekend shifts to the highly competitive weekday morning race to deliver weather updates.

Boston stations’ general managers have placed a renewed focus on the morning time period — the second-largest revenue generator — which has suffered tighter ratings since last year. Two stations launched 4:30 a.m. newscasts recently. They are hoping to attract more viewers and, in turn, more advertisers.

“This is the biggest battle zone,’’ said Bob Papper, head of the journalism department at Hofstra University.

Papper said some managers may be adding more female meteorologists to their morning shows because they may potentially draw more female viewers. He noted that women generally outnumber men among morning news viewers, especially in the coveted demographic of 25- to 54-year-olds. “It speaks to who they are after in the mornings,’’ he said.

But analysts say the morning makeover also reflects a national trend of more women studying atmospheric sciences, a field that has long been dominated by men in broadcasting.

According to the American Meteorological Society, in 2005 about 20 percent of meteorologists nationally were women, up from 10 percent in 1995. And in 2008, women forecasters were about 22 percent, up from 19 percent in 1999, according to the Radio Television Digital News Association.

“What is happening in Boston is something that is happening across the country,’’ said Betsy Kling, weeknight meteorologist in Cleveland. “Men still outnumber women when it comes to television meteorology, but more and more women are taking high visibility jobs and breaking the proverbial glass ceiling.’’

TV officials say they simply hired the best candidates for the jobs. “We found the best person that we could and that was Dylan,’’ said Chris Wayland, general manager at WHDH adding that “her appeal is to both men and women but certainly, she has a strong appeal to female viewers.’’

Bill Fine, president and general manager of WCVB-TV Channel 5, said the local increase in the number of women meteorologists also reflects how more women are entering the TV news business.

“There are more women rising in the profession,’’ said Fine. “Here it’s not a gender decision but a journalistic decision. A good meteorologist is a good meteorologist.’’

In some cases, the shuffling of personalities allowed managers to bring new talent to the mornings. Last March, WBZ-TV Channel 4 officials moved morning meteorologist Todd Gutner to evenings and replaced him with Boston newcomer Melissa Mack. At NECN this year, officials shifted morning meteorologist Matt Noyes to weeknights and elevated Danielle Niles to lead mornings.

Mack and Niles join J.C. Monahan of WCVB, who has also filled in as guest meteorologist on ABC’s “Good Morning America’’ show. And there’s WFXT-TV Channel 25’s Cindy Fitzgibbon, who was promoted to morning meteorologist in 2003 when the station launched its morning show. Fitzgibbon was the only female morning meteorologist then.

“It’s nice to see now more females being involved in the sciences and the industry in general,’’ she said.

Some of these meteorologists and professors say that today’s audiences are more willing to accept forecasts by them because of their science background. While there has always been a tradition of women presenting weather on television, very few had years of meteorology training.

“Meteorology degree programs across the country now have a little over 40 percent of majors being female,’’ said Keith Seitter, executive director of the Boston-based American Meteorological Society, which promotes atmospheric and related sciences.

Frank Colby, a meteorology professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said, “What we are seeing is a trend toward women scientists,’’ he said. “To be a meteorologist, you need to be able to do math and science and this is like calculus and differential equations and apply it to the atmosphere and make sense out of it.’’

One of his 2006 graduates: Niles of NECN.

Growing up in Weymouth, she remembers watching Mish Michaels, who was the only female Boston TV meteorologist when she arrived at WHDH in 1992. Michaels held various meteorologist roles at WHDH, The Weather Channel, and WBZ before leaving to spend more time with her young daughter.

“She was the kind of female meteorologist I looked up to,’’ recalled Niles. “New England has every little piece of weather that you can imagine and it always me made question, why does this happen?’’

For Dreyer, a similar interest in math and science led her to Rutgers University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in meteorology in 2003.

Dreyer worked as a meteorologist in Erie, Pa., and then Providence before landing at WHDH in 2007. She arrives at the station as early as 4 a.m. to assemble her forecasts.

“You have to know what you are talking about to be liked in Boston,’’ she said.

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.