Sara Salimi practices giving the weather forecast while Matthew Charchenko controls the weather graphics.
Dennis Wise/University of Washington
A student practices giving the weather forecast in pre COVID times while Matthew Charchenko controls the weather graphics. The “Broadcast Lounge” is outfitted with a green screen, cameras and The Weather Company’s Max system for professional weather graphics.

In pre-COVID times, a group of students would huddle around a computer practicing their skills to create professional-grade weather graphics like the ones seen on local news channels or practice giving weather reports while standing in front of a green screen in a mini-TV-studio classroom. They are part of The UW DawgCast, a year-long club offered in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences jointly with a broadcast meteorology course that welcomes weather-loving students of all majors to teach them how to read, synthesize, and communicate weather.

The club unites students from all corners of the UW who share a common passion for weather, and allows for unique access to top-of-the-line technology also used in professional broadcast studios and mentorship from KOMO Chief Meteorologist Shannon O’Donnell, a UW Atmospheric Sciences alum. The students, all from different majors and levels of atmospheric sciences background knowledge, provide daily weather information in the form of social media and blog posts hyper relevant to the UW community.

The DawgCast president Matthew Charchenko has known that he wanted to be a broadcast meteorologist since he was seven years old. As a kid, he brought the seven day forecast with him to school and relayed the information to his classmates, and friends would even ask what weather to expect in the coming weeks. In high school, he reached out on social media to O’Donnell which resulted in an invitation to the KOMO studios to shadow her and tour a broadcast studio.

Now in college, Charchenko has found his home in the atmospheric sciences department.

“It’s been so awesome to see this club grow from where we started. Veterans in the club will walk new members through how to build a forecast, how to write a blog post and social media post and how to create graphics,” said Charchenko. “Forecast models are a visual output so you don’t need to know a ton of the science to talk about it. It seems intimidating and daunting at first, but it’s a cool way to think about what you’re communicating. It’s about taking complex forecast data and learning how to synthesize it and communicate to the general public.”

One of the non-atmospheric sciences major club members is Preston Donion, who is a marketing major at UW. A longtime fan and follower of weather, Donion was initially interested in the course and was finally able to add it to his schedule this winter quarter. “I had taken a couple of atmospheric sciences classes throughout my time at UW, and have met some great people through those classes who were passionate about the same thing,” he said. “The club is definitely the highlight of my week right now.”

Donion recalled feeling lost in his first couple weeks in the club, and needing to tune up on atmospheric science concepts he’d learned previously. Through hands-on training from the club’s members and digging through old notes taken in atmospheric sciences courses, the knowledge returned and Donion was able to communicate the information in a couple of weeks’ time.

“Don’t be intimidated if you have never broadcasted before,” Donion says to encourage others thinking about joining the club. “The team is super welcoming and teaches you everything you need to know. You can make really big leaps and meet great people, so don’t be shy because the learning curve is tailored to you individually.”

Donion is currently working in the marketing department at Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA), and hopes to pursue a career in athletics. “Weather is my secondary career path that I’ve always loved but never threw myself at completely. My goal is to work in ICA, but I’ve been thinking of ways to apply my side passion. Even if I don’t enter the broadcast meteorology field, I can still use so many things I’ve learned from this club and apply it at any job, like analyzing, broadcasting, and the ability to write and produce blog posts and social media posts,” he says.

Atmospheric Sciences junior Rachael Fewkes was also drawn to the club through a shared love of weather. “I’ve always loved crazy storms and severe weather, and have actually always liked the rain,” she said.

Scientifically and mathematically minded, Fewkes had always planned on majoring in STEM and joined the atmospheric science department when she heard about the meteorology track within the department. Also a Washington native, she recalls watching O’Donnell report the weather on KOMO growing up and was one of the first members of the club.

Her favorite part of the club is the social media aspect, particularly making graphics and posting to Twitter.

When asked about her career aspirations, Fewkes wants to stay in the field but in a less-visible role, something behind the scenes. Her goal is to work for the National Weather Service.

She encourages anyone considering joining The DawgCast not to be intimidated. “This club is a great way to make connections and learn about the communications aspect of blog writing and social media,” she said.

Of course, COVID-19 has affected the way that these broadcasters are able to deliver weather reports. Even professional meteorologists are forced to be more creative as access to green screens is gone. But O’Donnell sees this as an opportunity for club members to learn delivering professional reports from their homes and learning how to produce quick, easily digestible videos on social media.

“The National Weather Service used to be kind of a mysterious entity to the public, but now these young people taking over there are also making great graphics, incorporating music lyrics and pop culture gifs to include in their reports. Thanks to social media and how they get their weather message out, they’re in the broadcasting business now, too!” says O’Donnell.

The most important aspect that anyone – regardless of their career goals post-graduation – gains from the club is the hands-on experience in a studio setting with professional tools available.

“When you are applying to broadcast jobs, you need to make a demo reel in a news studio. Most people don’t get that much experience in doing it beforehand, and don’t get to work with a green screen or expensive graphics. Learning exactly what a job entails and having the opportunity to practice it consistently is nice especially because it’s all ad libbing so you have to be really good at communicating succinctly and pairing graphics with what we’re saying,” says Charchenko. “I’m so thankful this club was made possible.”

Follow along as Charchenko takes us behind-the-scenes in a typical day in his life and see what goes into one of their Twitter or blog posts. He took over our Instagram account on March 11, and all posts are saved to a Highlight