Employee Spotlight: Heather Hope
Heather Hope has worn several hats in the weather industry. With her experience in on-air meteorology, international business development, and now university relations, Hope understands the ins and outs of the business. Every day, her focus is on helping universities obtain tools to enhance the learning and research experience for students earning a degree in meteorology.
In a recent conversation, Hope shared why she’s so interested in weather, tips for college students studying meteorology, and even some storm chasing stories.
How did you become interested in weather?
When I was a child living in Birmingham, AL, a thunderstorm passed through our neighborhood. Lightning struck our house, caught it on fire and burned half of it down. That was the moment I became interested in weather. I wanted to know why and how it happened. But it wasn’t until high school I decided I wanted to be a broadcast meteorologist. To me, that seemed like the best and quickest way to reach people during severe weather.
Tell me more about your education. Where did you attend college?
I really didn’t know where I needed to go when I graduated, so I decided to attend Jacksonville State, the local college. After 2 years there, I contacted James Spann to ask him where I should go to study broadcast meteorology. He responded to me and said, “you have to go to Mississippi State.” So, that’s exactly where I went. Three years later I graduated and began looking for on-air positions.
The program did a lot to prepare me for my goals. We had plenty of meteorology courses, we learned broadcasting skills, and we put on broadcast forecasts for the local TV station. And every May, they would take students to go storm chasing. When I graduated, I felt confident with building graphics, putting a forecast together and giving a presentation.
Storm chasing? What was that like?
It was a lot of fun! Two weeks during the summer they made storm chasing a part of our hands-on learning experience. You can read anything in a book, but to really understand it you have to see it for yourself. My most memorable experience was when we were storm chasing on a dark night in South Dakota. I had my video camera out, but it’s really hard to see anything certain at night—you have to wait for flashes of lightning. The next day we took the footage to the local TV station and they reviewed it in slow motion. After looking at the video and comparing it to radar, it confirmed the tornado for the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.
What jobs have you held during your career?
My first job was in Helena, MT, as a broadcast meteorologist. I actually ended up doing the whole interview process over the phone. After that, I moved to San Angelo, TX and then went on to Amarillo, TX. During my time in Amarillo, I saw many tornadoes, hail events and snow storms. The first winter I was there, the day after Christmas, 22 inches of snow fell! This is also the position where my storm chasing skills came in handy. I would be on-air in the morning, and storm chase in the afternoon for the station. Also, when I was on the air I earned certification from both the American Meteorological Society (AMS Seal) and the National Weather Association (NWA Seal) Seal of Approval.
What’s interesting about my job in Amarillo is that I was a customer of Baron while I was there. I was using Baron StormWarn, live radar and FasTrac on a daily basis.
Is that how you heard about Baron?
Yes, it was. Cherie Smyly was actually my sales rep at the time. She told me about an opening at Baron in the customer service training and installation department. She said, “You’d be perfect for the position. We are looking to add more people to our customer service department with a broadcast meteorology background.” I handed in my resume and 13 years later the rest is history.
What positions have you held during your time at Baron?
My first 8 years were spent in customer support installation and training. The past 4 years I worked in International Business Development. Traveling for that position was a lot of fun, and I got to sell our systems to countries around the world. It was wonderful, because we were all coming together with a common goal—to keep citizens safe and informed about the weather.
Recently, I became the University Relations Meteorologist. It’s a new department in the company, and it’s my job to reach out to universities with atmospheric science, broadcast meteorology, journalism and meteorology programs to help them acquire tools to enhance their teaching and research in the classroom.
What is your favorite part of your job at Baron?
It’s very exciting for us as a company, and me personally, to bridge the gap between our customers and the education market. With the help of our tools, students are better prepared when they graduate to take on a position in weather, or as they further their education and degree. I can’t imagine how excited universities are to share VIPIR and Omni with their students. Being a part of furthering the next generation of meteorologists is definitely my favorite part of the job.
What are some challenges you’ve faced?
When I was a customer of Baron in Amarillo, I would have to call customer support with issues and questions. I came to work for the customer service department with a personal goal of making Baron the number one company when it came to customer service. Because I was a prior customer, I felt like I had a unique perspective. I could empathize with the issues they were facing—I spoke their language. When a customer has an issue, it’s critical that the issue be solved as soon as possible.
What would you say to someone who wants to study weather?
I would say there are a lot of career paths available to those who study meteorology. It’s not limited to on-air or the National Weather Service, although those are probably the most popular. There’s lots of opportunity out there, but now more than ever, it’s very competitive. The best thing you can do is make yourself more marketable. How do you do that? When you get a degree, don’t just focus on meteorology. Get a minor in engineering or computer science. The more skills you have the better.
What do you like to do outside of the office?
I love to travel, and that really came in handy during my time in international business development. My favorite thing to do is spend time with my husband and my 5-year-old daughter. That’s really all I have time for, because my daughter gets into everything. As a family, we like going to the concerts on the dock at Lowe Mill and the movie nights in Big Spring Park.