To be on the air as the Saturday morning meteorologist for NBC5’s newscasts, Ginger Zee wakes up at 1:30am. “I’ll try to go to bed before 10pm, so I can get at least four hours [of sleep],” she says. “But that rarely happens.” She bounces around many of the station’s news programs, so she often finds herself working a double shift on Saturdays, staying until 10:30am and then returning at 2:30pm and finally leaving for the day at 10:30pm. “It’s not a social schedule,” she says. Her routine goes like this: Wake up at 1:30 (“I’m always the sober one out there as I’m heading to work and everyone else is leaving bars”), arrive at the station at 2:30am, get makeup and then prepare her forecast for the day (using four computers and looking at many variables including what the temperature is 7,000 feet in the air) and create the weather graphics to be displayed on air. “That’s the difference between a meteorologist and the anchors. No one’s writing anything for me,” she says.
While she was an undergrad at Valparaiso University in Indiana, Zee was a member of Storm Intercept Team. “It was a club for weather geeks,” she says. The group chased storms on a regular basis. “We’d go to Iowa for a day if we saw that interesting weather was going to be up there,” she says. Her biggest chase happened in 2001, when she followed the same storm more than 5,000 miles (covering Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Iowa). Although it did have some exciting moments, she didn’t see any flying cattle à la Twister. “They blew it a little out of proportion,” she says of the 1996 film. “If you followed us on a real chase, you’d be bored. Half the time, we’re just waiting and waiting.”
Even though weather forecasts are accessible to anyone with a computer or mobile phone, Zee says there is one advantage to getting your weather news from your local television station. “I can add perception,” she says. “People go on what it feels like.” What she means is even though it may technically be 80 degrees one day, it might feel like only 75. “I’ll always say it’s going to be a little lower because in your mind, 80 feels a lot different than 75.” And especially this spring, when the city was coming out of a deep freeze and in serious need of a decent day, Zee slightly lowballed her temp predictions. “If it’s going to be 70 but will feel cooler, I’ll put 69,” she says. “No one is going to be pissed if it’s suddenly 72. But if I tell them 70, especially when they’re dying for a 70-degree day and it turns out to be chilly, they are going to be livid.”
Because she’s on TV every day, Zee is recognized on the street. “This one lady recently came up to me and wanted me to call her friend’s husband to wish him a happy Father’s Day,” she says. She also gets odd items in the mail (such as wedding proposals and a portrait of her) . “[The painting is] hanging in my office at Valpo,” Zee says—she teaches one class a week at her alma mater. But the biggest way viewers reach out to Zee is through e-mail. And although many messages are complimentary, some are critical—especially about her clothes. “Recently, I had a [short-sleeve] shirt on, and a woman wrote in and said ‘Ginger Zee looks like a prostitute.’ I’ve also been called a working girl,” she says. “Because I’m not wearing a jacket today, I know someone will write in saying something along those lines.” Even though the e-mails can sometimes be mean-spirited, Zee responds to every single one. “I’ll be nice and will try to be funny, and hopefully that changes their perspective of me,” she says.
Zee says she sometimes wakes up on days off in a panic, worried she’s overslept. Her fear came true early in her career when she was working at a station in Michigan. She was feeling sick and went to bed around 8pm but didn’t wake up until 7am—when her newscast had just ended. “It was horrible,” she says. “I wanted to die because I thought, Well, I just lost my first job.” She got to keep her job, and the incident also reminded her to have extra wake-up calls. “Ever since then, I set at least eight different alarms.”