In the 1950s and 1960s, many American television viewers wondering about the day’s high and low temperatures or the chance of weekend rainfall got their forecasts from “weathergirls,” women with little if any training in meteorology whose indignities sometimes included the requirement that they don bathing suits before going on air.
There were weathermen and weathergirls, but for generations, female meteorologists were practically unheard of. So, too, were black atmospheric scientists. A trailblazer for both was June Bacon-Bercey, who died July 3 at 90 in Burlingame, California. Her death was reported Jan. 3 by AccuWeather, the forecasting service, describing her as the first female TV meteorologist in the United States.
Beginning in the 1950s, Bacon-Bercey worked for the Weather Bureau and its successor agency, the National Weather Service, as well as for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Atomic Energy Commission. At each stop in her career, she overcame obstacles to women and minorities, who had long been largely excluded from the sciences.
But she was perhaps best known for her pathbreaking stint during the early 1970s at a local NBC television affiliate in Buffalo. Trained in meteorology — in the 1950s, she had been among the first women to receive a university degree in the field — she was initially hired as a science correspondent. An opportunity to report the weather arose in 1971 when the station’s weather anchor robbed a bank.
“All hell broke loose at the station … and they needed someone who was there to fill in for the day,” Bacon-Bercey recounted to the San Francisco Chronicle years later. “I already knew from my calculations there was going to be a heat wave. When the heat wave hit the next day, the job was mine.”
In 1972, according to the book “Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Meteorology” by meteorologist Robert Henson, Bacon-Bercey had the double distinction of becoming the first African American and first woman to earn a Seal of Approval from the American Meteorological Society, a designation created to assure television viewers of a weathercaster’s qualifications.
Reflecting on her career and on her appetite for challenge, Bacon-Bercey told Henson that “being a black woman, younger than my peers, everything I did I had to excel in, just to be on an even level.”
“I didn’t resent that,” she continued. “I loved it.”