Milwaukee Talks: Channel 4 meteorologist Jesse Ritka
OMC: Do people point out all your mistakes but never congratulate you for getting it right?
JR: No! I've heard more "thanks you's" and positives comments about getting the forecast right in southeastern Wisconsin. I never expected that, but there haven't been enough opportunities for people to lash out at me over severe weather.
OMC: Do you get fired up over severe weather?
JR: No. I love looking at the radar and severe weather parameters, but I always know what's on the line on those days. I get pumped up about snowstorms, because I love snow forecasting, especially with Lake Michigan. I love a challenge, just nailing it down.
OMC: Is Milwaukee one of the hardest places to forecast weather?
JR: Oh yeah. Because of Lake Michigan. When I was interviewing, I went back and looked up all of my college notes on lake effect. I was so nervous about how lakes interact with weather systems, but fortunately we're on the right side of Lake Michigan.
OMC: Have you learned from your meteorologist colleagues?
JR: Oh yeah, with me being the youngest, I've learned from each and every one of them.
OMC: Have you taught them anything?
JR: I try and get them going a little more on Twitter. John Malan and I will chat a lot about global warming. It was interesting to break into the "boys' club." The main challenge is where to put the microphone when I'm wearing a dress.
OMC: There are plenty of female meteorologists here, though, right?
JR: It's still an incredibly male-dominated field, but it's becoming less so because math and science are becoming more stressed for girls. It's a huge reason I'm staying in television: if you can get girls interested in math and science, they can go on to follow that path. If I can inspire a girl, who knows, a girl can find the cure for cancer.
OMC: You also do weather lectures to school children, right?
JR: For me, it makes it more than the just forecast. I love talking to people. I'd much rather speak to 1,000 people than the camera, actually. You can't gauge how you're doing to a cold, hard piece of metal. I love keeping kids engaged.
OMC: You don't have the same TV voice in person.
JR: My struggle has been trying to turn the TV voice off. Sometimes you put the suit on and you go into character. Sometimes I talk a little too high in person, but I get up at 2 in the morning, so I have that low morning voice.
OMC: Yeah, so tell me about a day in your life.
JR: I don't have a social life. I get up at 2 or 2:30 on Saturday or Sunday mornings. I forecast for an hour or an hour and a half, start building graphics, find interesting factoids. I do a couple of radio hits, put my face on and maneuver the microphone on, then type out an email summary for the paper. We'll do a bunch of cut-in for the "Today Show" and our show. Then I'll check the models to make sure the forecast holds. You don't have a visible satellite picture overnight, so cloud cover is what I adjust the most. I'll be tweeting and Facebooking the entire time. If there's rain I'll stay until Michael Fish's duties start up around 1:30 p.m. If there's a chance of severe weather, I have to sit and babysit the radar.
OMC: Are you scripted when you're standing in front of the green screen?
JR: That's all off the top of my head. My brain is thinking a lot faster than my mouth can (speak).
OMC: Actually, you're really fluid.
JR: That you can attribute to my parents. Anytime I'd be practicing a speech, "um" was a no-no word.
OMC: Are you exhausted after a morning on TV?
JR: The nice thing is that I don't have to go right to bed. The 10 p.m. shifts, I couldn't do that, because I'd be up until 2 a.m. I've become more of a morning person. I can go work out right after. I have to get on a regular sleep schedule, though, because Monday through Friday, I report 9-5.
OMC: Did I read that you're a marathon runner?
JR: Yes. I ran the Twin Cities Marathon at the end of college. I ran one in Sioux Falls, and my aunt and I just decided over Thanksgiving that we're going to run the Las Vegas Marathon next year.
OMC: Is Milwaukee where you want to be, or is this a stepping stone to the next market?
JR: You know, I would be fine staying here. I love the Packers, and honestly, I really love the weather team we've got. I love that we've got five meteorologists, which is unheard of in television. I love that there's a 9 to 5 shift, which is unheard of. I love the Midwest. I'm an hour and a half away from my grandparents. The flights are a lot cheaper back to Minneapolis.
And the people are so nice here. We moved her right after the Super Bowl, so the following season was my first in Packers Country. It was so incredible after growing up and working in Vikings Country.
The festivals, the lake, I love them. It's become such a cool, diverse culture to live in. And work is challenging; I don't want to cover hurricanes or sunny California. This the area I want to stay in.
OMC: But isn't the pinnacle of your profession the 10 o'clock news? You might have to wait a long time for that to happen.
JR: I don't need to be the 10 o'clock meteorologist. I want to have a family, and I want to be with my family. I want to be there for my kids' events. I don't want to pigeon-hole myself into that job if it means sacrificing my family. And I'm a morning person, too! I'm more than OK working mornings.
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We watch Channel 4 every morning and Jesse does a great job! What a cool job....you only have to say there's a 50% chance of anything....rain...snow...sun...clouds....and you have it covered.
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