Employee Spotlight: Stephen McCloud
“While other kids were watching cartoons, I was watching the weather,” said Stephen McCloud, Weather Operations Manager at Baron. Captivated by meteorology at a young age, Stephen has always been interested in keeping the public safe and informed during weather events.
In a recent interview, Stephen shared his experience in the weather industry, the unique challenges he faces on the job, and an inside look at life in the Baron Ops Center during severe weather.
How did you become interested in weather?
When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the weather. I would go outside and spend hours looking at storms, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to be outside. The sheer power behind the weather made me fearful of it, but absorbed in it at the same time. I knew I wanted to learn more about weather and how it all worked.
I grew up watching several on-air personalities, some that are now clients of Baron, most notably Paul Barys at WRCB-TV and David Neal (then at WDEF-TV, now at WeatherNation). I do my best to stay in close contact with them, because they were instrumental in helping me define my career path.
Did you ever think of another career outside of the weather industry?
I considered computer science for a while. Back then, we all used the old Apple computers and the floppy disc was in its heyday. But, I was still drawn to meteorology. At the time I wanted an on-air meteorology career, but my goals have changed since then.
Where did you complete your education?
I went to Mississippi State and earned a B.S. in Geosciences/Meteorology. During my time in the program, I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted my career to look like. I enjoy everything about the industry—current weather, forecasting, radar and satellite—it all intrigues me.
It was a very challenging program, but the professors made sure that classes never felt like a chore. The teachers and students worked together to make it a learning environment with a family atmosphere. I carried this outlook to my position at Baron. We are a family here. We are also going to get the job done.
What was your first job out of college?
My first position was here at Baron as a Customer Service Meteorologist in 2003. When I graduated, I applied to jobs around the country and ended up getting an offer in Sioux City, Iowa. Actually, when I was at the interview for Sioux City, Baron called about an open position. Glyn Pool, the hiring manager at the time, asked if I could be at the office on Monday for an interview. I knew immediately that I belonged here, and the rest is history.
How did you hear about Baron?
A friend informed me that Baron was hiring. I knew what Baron stood for, and I knew about some of its products—like VIPIR and FasTrac. When I went in for my interview, I could see my goals lined up with the company’s mission. I want to help save people’s lives and to be there when they need it most. To me, that is the most rewarding thing about a career in weather.
What has been your most memorable day at Baron?
That has to be April 27, 2011, because it impacted me personally. I can remember every detail of that day; it was the day I lost my home. April 2011 was a month when several tornadoes were active across the United States. There were a record number of them in the southeast and we had two EF-5s—one went through west Alabama and hit Limestone County. My neighborhood was devastated, and Alabama lost nearly 300 people that day.
When the tornadoes were over, my home was flooded and suffered substantial tornado damage. My wife and daughter were home at the time and thankfully they were fine. If it wasn’t for Baron data, there might have been deaths that day in my neighborhood. There have been several memorable days here, but that one stands out the most. I also like being here for all of the company’s great achievements—like when big clients come on board. It’s exciting to see.
How has your role changed during your time at Baron?
As I said before, I was hired to be a Customer Service Meteorologist to help clients with installations and training on our systems. When I first started, my position required a lot of travel—sometimes 3 weeks out of every month. I was able to travel all across the United States, and even traveled abroad to Romania for 3 weeks (on three different occasions) to help train hydrologists and meteorologists on their DESWAT system. Every trip was an inspiration for me to continue improving in my job.
In 2009, I was approached about taking on the role as the Customer Services Manager. I knew it was a good move at the time, because my wife and I were about to have our first child and I didn’t need to be traveling as much. Since then, I have learned a lot about myself and as a manager. I try to make it a family environment. Yes, we work hard, but we all enjoy coming into work everyday. I think that’s just as valuable.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I have the pleasure of overseeing 13 employees who do customer service work, broadcast installations. I also oversee daily forecasting duties and lead the digital support team.
When I arrive, I check with the overnight crew to make sure that there are no outstanding problems that need to be dealt with. I monitor daily weather, work with the IT department to maintain data flow, and basically make sure that everything is up and running for our clients. Of course, I am always here to help my team if they need anything or have any questions. But, my first priority is to make sure that our data is flowing correctly and efficiently. We want our customers to know they can rely on us 24/7.
How does Baron continue to improve its customer service?
In the next couple of weeks, we are introducing a new ticketing system that will allow us to better track incoming issues. Customers will have an opportunity to monitor the progress of their requests. We are also using customers’ support calls to build a forward-facing knowledge base that helps all customers when issues arise.
Additionally, we are assigning Baron meteorologists to be specific caretakers to different TV stations. This is another step forward in making sure our customers have everything they need—education, data training, software training and fully functional, up-to-date systems.
Our new support features will make the process more user-friendly. The updated support site will also include more tutorial videos. All of this will help alleviate some of the communication between tech support and the customer.
Our customers are who we are. Therefore, we have to make sure they are taken care of. Every department at Baron is focused on providing exceptional customer service.
You recently traveled to Madrid, Spain. What was the purpose of that trip?
I went to install an Omni system for El Tiempo, the largest weather website in Madrid. Baron’s Omni system was installed to help them with their weather presentation. Before, they were making graphics by hand using an intensive process that took nearly a day to produce a simple 5 minute video. Now they have a way to deliver weather graphics in a timely manner that’s also appealing to their viewers.
What would you say is the greatest challenge on the job?
Learning how to work with all types of people takes focus, and it’s been challenging for me. But it’s also very gratifying. As a manager, my goal is to be there for clients, as well as my team. Everyone has different needs and learning styles. My job requires me to adapt to many different people.
What is the most exciting part of your job?
Dealing with people. I have always been a people person, even at a young age. It brings me great satisfaction to know that I am helping people and seeing our technology change their lives for the better. I work constantly to make sure that people have weather data when and where they need it most. This job comes with a lot of rewards.
What’s it like in the Ops Center during severe weather?
We have a protocol if severe weather is imminent. First, we check data and make sure it’s flowing correctly. Then, we answer the phones and make sure our customers are taken care of. Of course, if the weather is occurring locally, we also make sure our families are safe.
If we think we are going to lose power, we feed our data out of our backup facility in Asheville, North Carolina and through the cloud. That way, data is never lost. We periodically test these systems to make sure data is switching over properly. We also keep the Baron office informed and send out updates to ensure everyone in the company is weather-aware. On-air clients are monitored, and my team drop notes to them about what we are seeing so they can relay it to their viewers. We are the meteorologists of the company and our job is to keep everyone calm, safe and ready.
What would you say to someone who wants to become a meteorologist?
Explore all options. Look at the private sector, public sector and anything in between. It’s important to keep an open mind about your options. Also, it helps to have a knowledge of science and computers; that will serve you well.
What do you like to do outside the office?
I’m a big college football fan, but I love sports in general. #HAILSTATE! Other than that, I love spending time with my family and playing with my two kids. When I go home in the afternoon, I play until it’s time to go to bed. My family is the most rewarding thing in my life, and I love my time with them. I also enjoy cooking. My mother and grandmother taught me everything I know, so I handle the cooking most of the time. It reminds me of them, so it’s a comfort to me.