Celebrating the legacy of meteorologist June Bacon-Bercey

AMS renamed Broadcaster of the Year Award to honor trailblazing meteorologist

Dr. June Bacon-Bercey was a pioneering meteorologist and the first African American to receive a degree in meteorology. (Image credit: Dail St. Claire) (WKMG 2021)

Florida – The American Meteorological Society’s Broadcaster of the Year Award has been renamed to honor the late June Bacon-Bercey, a pioneering African American woman in the field of meteorology.

The AMS recently changed the name of the Broadcaster of the Year Award to the June Bacon-Bercey Award for Broadcast Meteorology. The new title will be used starting 2022. (American Meteorological Society)

According to the AMS this award recognizes one broadcast meteorologist each year for their sustained long-term contributions to the community through broadcast media or for outstanding work during a specific weather event.

AMS board members strongly encouraged the change citing Bacon-Bercey as doing this very thing during “a time when barriers could have stood in the way of her achieving success”.

The path she paved began in the 50s when Bacon-Bercey was the first African American woman to earn a bachelor’s in meteorology. That was just the start of what would be an extensive career earning multiple awards along the way.

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Bacon-Bercey was working as a science correspondent at Buffalo’s WGR-TV (now WGRZ) in 1971 when her manager turned to her as an emergency fill-in for weather. The main anchor had just been arrested for robbing a bank when management realized they had someone on staff formally trained in meteorology. Although there had been other women that presented the weather on air before, Bacon-Bercey became the first woman and first African American woman with formal meteorological training to deliver the weather on television. She was a hit and then offered the job which she kept until moving on to the National Weather Service and National Oceanic Aviation Administration.

During her time in television Bacon-Bercey kept breaking even more barriers. In 1972 Bacon-Bercey was awarded the AMS’s Seal of Approval in excellence in t.v. weathercasting. She was the first woman and first African American woman to do so.

As she proceeded with her career in the government sector Bacon-Bercey worked in areas focusing on research, forecasting, and even public affairs. In 1975, she founded the AMS Board on Woman and Minorities. Four years later she continued her career and education by earning her MA in Public Administration.

Even as Bacon-Bercey retired with over thirty years in the meteorology field, she continued to follow her passion. She became a consultant and educator with the AMS to encourage young women and minorities to earn degrees in meteorology.

In an effort to continue Bacon-Bercey’s legacy the AMS is hopeful that the award deemed “The June Bacon-Bercey Award for Broadcast Meteorology” will encourage a more diverse nomination pool for the AMS Broadcast Award. To date only three female broadcast meteorologists have received this award.

Other changes have been made to the award going forward. The terms of reference have been adjusted to include social media, blogs, public education and outreach which mirrors the contributions Bacon-Bercey made outside television. The trailblazing meteorologist once won $64,000 on a game show then used the prize money to start a scholarship for women in meteorology.

The June Bacon-Bercey Scholarship in Atmospheric Sciences for Women supports females students as they establish their careers in the meteorology field. The scholarship is now funded by Bacon-Bercey’s daughter, Dail St. Claire, and other family and friends.

In her biography Bacon-Bercey was quoted as saying “I was discouraged from becoming a meteorologist. If women feel they have some money behind them, it might be better.”

Bacon-Bercey went on to funding a meteorology lab at Jackson State University which in 1980 was the only historically Black university with a meteorology program in the U.S.

Many do not know Bacon-Bercey’s incredible story. It’s moments like this Nate Johnson, the president of the National Weather Association, says he’s grateful for periods like Black History month and other months throughout the year. In the most recent message from Johnson he goes on to say more about appreciating Black History Month.

“On one level, they are an opportunity to focus on people whom we really should be getting to know and stories that we should be telling all year long. And they help to address the natural blind spots that exist when we view our collective history through the lens of our experiences,” Johnson said. “The goal is to educate ourselves and broaden our perspective all year long so our understanding of the weather community’s story grows richer and ever more complete”

June Bacon-Bercey passed away July 3, 2019. She was 90 years old.

About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.