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People - A forecast for success

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Two SCHS grads on the air as television meteorologists

By John Shindlebower

 

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Weather may not be the easiest thing to predict, but for two Spencer County High School graduates, forecasting their futures has gotten a bit simpler now that they’ve both landed on the air as television meteorologists.

Andrew Dockery and Arden Gregory graduated from Spencer County High School in 2011, and both enrolled at Western Kentucky University with dreams of standing in front of the green screen on the nightly newscasts. They were not driven by the lure of the camera, but by a fascination of weather and the importance of keeping communities safe and alert in times of dangerous conditions.

“I decided to pursue Meteorology in the fifth grade. I was terrified of tornadoes and storms and wanted to know how they formed,” said Dockery. He toyed around with a simple science project, creating a tornado in a jar, which just intensified his fascination.

“I began to build a love for weather. Not only to protect me, but eventually to protect others.”
Gregory’s attraction was also stirred by the dangerous winds of a tornado.

“When I was very young, a tornado hit the town we were living in at the time. Although my family was not directly impacted, that experience left me fascinated with the weather,” she said.

“I always wanted to know how the weather was going to affect me and the people around me from that day forward.”

As she grew older, she realized her fascination with the weather could be parlayed into a career.
“The more I learned about the weather and what it was like to be a professional meteorologist, the more confident I became that it was the right career choice for me.”

The fact that weather can be so powerful, and sometimes dangerous, gives the career a sense of community service as well. “I love being someone that other people can now turn to for their forecast,” she said.

Gregory, who graduated from WKU with a major in Meteorology and a minor in Broadcasting, first hit the air a few weeks ago after landing a job at WYMT-TV in Hazard, Kentucky. She was thrilled to stay in her home state, where weather forecasting is a constant challenge.

“I am very lucky. Kentucky weather can be a little crazy, but it is what I have grown up around, and it is what I am used to forecasting. It was nice to stay somewhere relatively familiar.”

Dockery will graduate in May with the same degrees, and has been an on-air weather personality at WNKY in Bowling Green, and just landed the morning weather spot there.

“To be able to do this as a student for two years has been a dream come true,” he said. Mixing work and school has been challenging, but worth it.

“In the end, it’s been a great experience. I’m thankful to have the hometown support and gain new family in Bowling Green.”

While both are in different parts of the state, they look back with fondness for their days in Spencer County, and consider their time here to be a vital part of their success now.

“There were many good teachers I had throughout the years, but two that really stand out for me are Mr. Buynak at the middle school, and Mr. Lunn at the high school,” said Dockery.

“Both pushed me to a new level and both wanted the best for me,” he said.

He also had high praise for Ms. Cook at the high school.

“With the senior project, she really helped me excel and get everything that I wanted to do in the next chapter accomplished. I was very happy and am thankful for these three great teachers.”

Gregory also singled out Ms. Cook’s influence during her senior project.

“All my teachers in Spencer County were very encouraging,” she said. “But the senior project I was required to complete as part of Ms. Cook’s English class, was particularly helpful in confirming that this was what I wanted to do.”

Both said their local education helped prepare them for the rigors of college, although it wasn’t always easy.

“I always knew that meteorology was a challenging science, but I will admit that college was harder than I expected it to be,” said Gregory. “A degree in meteorology from WKU requires not only some very difficult meteorology courses, but four levels of calculus and two levels of calculus-based physics. It’s intense,” she said.

Dockery echoed those sentiments.

“I was strong in math, but not calculus,” he said. “I have never been one to try to just get by. But with these classes, that’s what I had to do. Four semesters of calculus and two semesters of physics made me cry, feel like it wasn’t worth it, and really made me question if I was capable.”

However, he had a lot of people back home cheering him on, including a few professionals in his field he got to know through his mother’s job at a television station in Louisville.
“I grew up watching Kevin Harned and John Belski. I was thankful to have a mentor like Kevin Harned over these past 10 years or so. He has been a huge role model for me.”

With jobs entailing much more than just reading a prepared forecast off a teleprompter, Dockery and Gregory must actively watch radar, read reports and monitor the latest readings to create as accurate forecasts as possible. While it’s science, it’s not an exact science and nature can throw some curve balls.

“We can never be absolutely sure what the future will hold,” said Gregory. “When considering all of the different variables that impact the weather, I find it fascinating that we can forecast as accurately as we do; especially in a place like Kentucky where we can see snow and 70 degrees in the same week.”

Dockery said forecasts up to two or three days out are pretty accurate these days, but those long-range looks ahead can be tricky. He’s not a fan of those who predict snow storms out five, six or more days in advance, because that’s simply too early.

“While it’s great to get the word out, it’s also important to be accurate. It doesn’t help when other people are spreading false information,” he said.

Of course, there’s more risk than just getting the forecast wrong. Anyone who stands in front of a camera runs the chance of making a blooper that could go viral on Youtube. Those live, on-air gaffes in newsrooms are great for laughs, and both Gregory and Dockery know mistakes are bound to happen.

“I’ve made a ton of bloopers already, but none captured on tape and put on YouTube,” said Dockery. “However, I‘m a goofy guy and I don’t care what other people think. I’m trying to spread good news of sunshine everyday, but on some days I have to lighten them up when I mention rain.”

Gregory said those moments are bound to happen, so it’s best to keep it in perspective.

“Things are bound to go wrong in live television. As much as I would like to think I won’t have any major mess-ups, I am sure that over the course of my career, I will rack up a few bloopers. You just have to be able to laugh at yourself and shake it off.”

It takes that kind of confidence to chase such a high-profile career, and Gregory admits there were nerves the first time she went live on the air.

“I was extremely nervous, and I still get a little nervous,” she said. “Because weather changes constantly, it’s never scripted and there is never time to practice. So imagine getting in front of thousands of people and giving a presentation you made just a couple of hours ago and haven’t practiced.”

Dockery said his first on-air experience didn’t go as planned because of technical glitches.

“My first time on the air in Bowling Green was nerve racking. I had just gotten the position and the system froze on me.” He said there were no graphics to rely on.

“I was shaking, nervous and just trying to find a way to make the audience think I wasn’t a fool. The second day was better, but that first one was a nightmare.”

Both are now adjusting to the routine as they begin careers that may one day take them even farther away, or perhaps bring them back closer to home. What will never leave them, however, are the life lessons and the love for their Spencer County roots. They hope young people in Spencer County will never doubt their own ability to succeed in whatever they choose to do.

“My biggest advice is to dream, dream, dream,” said Dockery. He said he had plenty of naysayers growing up, but he simply used that as motivation. He also had determination, and he’s had the opportunity to return to Spencer County classrooms and talk to kids about following their dreams.

“Everyone has haters. It’s a matter of what you do with it. Do you quit or succeed? My dream is happening. Always believe,” he said.

Gregory said success is all about having the right attitude, hard work and seizing opportunity, regardless of where you are from.

“I want students in Spencer County to know that they should never worry about finding success just because they are from a small town. Your life will be whatever you make of it,” she said.