A Star Born out of Kismet with Ginger Zee
On one hand, Ginger Zee is like so many other meteorologists. Her love for weather came as a child, looking up to the sky and feeling a desire to know more. On the other hand, she is one of a kind. A meteorological superstar, on a national stage, who’s a role model to us all.
All it took was a stormy summer in the ‘80s on Lake Michigan and a weather nerd was born, “I would see thunderstorms form and just fell in love. It was like storm chasing as an eight year old.” Like many meteorologists before and after her, Ginger was in the right place at the right time, “it was almost kismet. It was supposed to happen.”
So in 1999, Ginger took her fascinations to Valparaiso University in pursuit of a meteorology degree. In one of her first classes a professor suggested she pursue television prompting her to send out resumes, left and right. In another “kismet moment”, only one station got back to her: ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, Alabama home to on-air legend, James Spann.
Ginger took the leap and moved her entire life to Alabama for her first experience at a TV station. “It wasn’t an easy move,” she said, leaving her friends and family behind in Michigan. In the end, it was well worth it. James Spann changed her perspective, “I found an absolute admiration of weather on television” setting Ginger on a course she’d never imagined.
Ginger racked up two more internships (and an impressive reel) before graduating from Valparaiso. During her internships, she learned from “the kings of weather” including Tom Skilling, Peter Chan, and James Spann. Having such an impressive undergraduate career she thought, “There’s no way I don’t get a job”. Life did its thing and well, “I didn’t get a job”.
Ginger was flexible and decided to work in radio for nine months. She says it was “the best training [she’d] ever had.” After radio, she eventually got a TV gig and bounced from station to station in her first few years, a commonplace for young, on-air meteorologists. During her time at WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she covered a story that made her the meteorologist she is today.
In August of 2005, Ginger and her crew headed to Gulfport, Mississippi to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “I remember geeking out for about three minutes and then looking around and realizing ‘oh my gosh, every single person here is affected’.” Ginger grew as a meteorologist and discovered exactly what her job meant, “It had nothing to do with me telling people how high the water line was, like nobody cares. They care about peoples’ lives who have been altered, forever.”
One image that stuck with her was a line of people waiting outside of a CVS but “the front of the CVS was gone. It was like a zombie-ish feel where people were really so in shock.” For a week, Ginger and her team were stuck with scarce amounts of gas, food, and water. They eventually made it out but not completely unscathed, “it was the first time I ever had survivor’s guilt.” Even so, the experience taught her an invaluable lesson, “It made me see humanity first. It’s very easy as a meteorologist to not see that.”
In 2011, Ginger joined Good Morning America (GMA) and she now leads the weather team on all ABC News platforms as the Chief Meteorologist. It’s a rewarding but demanding position. A normal day begins at 4am as Ginger makes her way to GMA Times Square studio where she collaborates with her team before going on air. Ginger recognizes the ABC weather team as a powerhouse, considering them a “strong meteorological unit”. Watch out, Avengers.
From 7am to 9am, it’s showtime. In the limited time she has, Ginger does her best to give one picture that makes an impact on her audience. In some cases, she’s limited to fifteen seconds and then it’s handed off to the local meteorologist who has a little more time, “which I miss greatly, by the way. I wish I could have three and a half minutes of weather.”
After a busy morning, Ginger spends time on other ABC and Disney projects including a role as the lead meteorologist, Dr. Zephyr Skye, on Miles from Tomorrowland. In this role, Ginger thrives, “I’m communicating the science and the atmospheric love that I have. The passion. That’s where I see my strength and responsibility growing.” Every other evening, Ginger will then reprise her role as Chief Meteorologist on ABC World News, completing the sixteen hour day.
Even after the long hours, the job isn’t over as questions and comments continuously pour in on social media. Ginger engages her audience and handles criticism upfront, “I embrace it. I get so much positive [feedback]. What I try to do is not take any of them too seriously. I try to not let them… get me too excited or confident. That has to come out of yourself.” At the same time, “I try not to take the negative too personally either. I also never want to get to the place where I’m not listening to someone. I still want to grow.”
Recently, comments have been harsher than normal, “especially after I had a baby, I’ve noticed a big uptick in negativity. A lot of people don’t think that a woman… I don’t understand why it’s different… but why a woman shouldn’t be working as much or traveling as much.” As you’d expect, Ginger handles these comments with grace, “I really like to let them know ‘just so you know, you’ve reached a real human being… you don’t know me. You don’t know how much time I spend with my child and I hope you have a wonderful Wednesday’.”
Every now and then, Ginger gets comments that she can’t help but laugh at, “Ginger Zee is like drizzle. Annoying and no personality.” She wrote back, “Agreed drizzle is annoying but I do think drizzle has personality.”
In 2016, the spotlight (literally) grew bigger for Ginger when she was selected as a participant in Dancing with the Stars. It was, as she describes it, “glamorous. It was so cool.” To her surprise, it made her a better meteorologist. Twice, Ginger had the chance to explain her passion and love for science. With an audience of at least ten million, Ginger saw her moment onstage as not just a time to tango but as an opportunity to inspire, “The amount of young girls that wrote me after, their moms wrote me and we started corresponding.”
Ginger’s career is one that was sparked from moments of kismet and after fourteen bright years in the industry, she’s hoping to create those moments for the future leaders of meteorology, “it doesn’t need to be big. It can be one vote of confidence or one little girl looking at you and saying, ‘I can do that too’.”
Listen to the full interview on Thursday, April 27th at 8pm ET on YouTube. Catch this and the rest of our episodes on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform. Help us keep the show running by donating on our Patreon.