Dawn Wotapka's Media Movers

Media Movers: Fox Weather’s Ian Oliver

November 10, 2023

Posted by Dawn Wotapka

Ian Oliver is a storm chaser of sorts, tracking heat and cold with aplomb and passion from his perch at Fox Weather’s FAST.

Ian Oliver loves weather. Why does that matter in business? Weather drives business. Cold drives people to buy hats and gloves. Heat fuels sunscreen and swimsuit orders. Preparing for extreme conditions sends everyone scrambling to their local store. Cleaning up after snow and storms does the same and also leads to more business for clean-up pros and contractors.

Enter Fox Weather’s FAST, which stands for Free, Ad-supported Streaming Television. The service launched in 2021 offers Fox’s meteorologists and experts to digital users who get the information via a variety of outlets, including Verizon Fios, The Roku Channel, YouTube TV and Cox. Simply, it meets viewers where they are with forecasts, storytelling and interviews. (Check out this recent panel for more info.)

I spent nearly two decades in daily print journalism, where the fear of layoffs was constantly palpable. That’s why I am intrigued by storytelling models that break the norm. Thank you, Ian, for chatting with me about breaking into meteorology, FAST and life outside of tracking storms:

Dawn: How did you get into meteorology?

Ian: I love weather: It’s a day one kind of thing. I grew up in southern New England on the south coast of Massachusetts. When Hurricane Bob hit in 1991, my mom said that she had to grab 3-year-old me away from the sliding glass door as I watched trees snap in the wind out in our backyard. Mother Nature requires a great deal of respect, but for me, it has always been more fascination than fear.

Dawn: How does one get into weather news?

Ian: Good question. I’m still not entirely sure! I’ve been so lucky to be a part of the Fox Weather team from the beginning. It’s such a unique place and product, and an exciting challenge from launch day in 2021 to now to grow and evolve as this place does. Most of us were local meteorologists before Fox Weather, with an everyday focus on delivering accurate and entertaining hyper-local forecasts.

Here, forecasting and live storm tracking — identifying and communicating where the most active or dangerous weather is anywhere across the country — is still paramount. There is so much more happening, though, in the news cycle within the realm of weather adjacency, and that’s a big part of our story, too. Often, it is that storytelling, plus the interviews and the deep-dive segments that we do that are the most compelling part of the job for me now.

Dawn: What is the typical career path for a news meteorologist?

Ian: Most careers have more obvious goals and some have a reasonably clear trajectory. There is no true roadmap in this business and no two journeys are the same. Everybody typically starts out after college in a small television market for a low salary.

That’s another reason why, if the passion for science and storytelling isn’t there, it is probably not going to work out. You truly have to love it. The early years are brutal financially and typically require a lot of personal sacrifice. There are many challenges out of the gate. But it’s a period of so much personal and professional growth. There’s no substitute for the reps and the on-the-job learning. Everybody has different goals for eventual jobs and desired markets. With time, experience, some luck and likely a few stops along the way, those opportunities become more attainable.

Dawn: You’re now with a FAST, which seems really interesting. Tell me about this model.

Ian: A few weeks ago, I admitted to our president Sharri Berg that I didn’t know what the acronym FAST even meant before I did some research and applied to be a part of what Fox Weather was starting back in 2021. We can be found in all the traditional TV network places now — but the FAST channel aspect is the most interesting and has the greatest potential for growth. We are just about everywhere now: on almost every platform, always for the low price of free, supported by advertising.

Our business model, the scale of it at least, is at the forefront of where the media industry is right now. People want access to information and entertainment when they want it, where they want it — and ideally and understandably, they don’t want to pay for it. We want to be everybody’s one-stop shop for weather news wherever and whenever is most convenient and timely for our viewers.

Dawn: What is the most interesting weather story that you’ve told?

Ian: I did a lot of space and science reporting when I was working in Florida. I covered the first test launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, the largest rocket to leave Earth since the Saturn V and the Apollo missions. It launched from the same historic pad 39-A. This was when Elon Musk launched his Tesla Roadster and his dummy driver Starman into outer space. The two first-stage side booster rockets returned back to Earth after the launch. They flew across the sky [and there was a] supersonic, big double-sonic boom followed by a synchronized landing at Cape Canaveral. It was like watching science fiction in real life, [and it was] the coolest thing I’ve ever seen by a large margin.

Dawn: During Hurricane Dorian you flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters to provide an in-depth look into the storm. What was that like?

Ian: Intense. Hurricane hunters provide a critical service to the American public, and one seven-hour flight with them into Dorian (then a major CAT 3 hurricane) gave me a clear respect and appreciation for it. If you’ve ever had a not-so-fun flight with turbulence, imagine several hours of that. Meteorologists from NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division were onboard testing an instrument that measures the top-end winds of a hurricane. We punched back and forth through the eyewall, the most intense part of the storm, for three straight hours.

I sat in a jump seat in the cockpit with the pilots and flight engineer and got to launch a dropsonde (a device that falls down through the storm and measures atmospheric conditions, like a reverse weather balloon) out of the bottom of the plane. The run-up to the flight was hectic and all I had time to eat that day was a granola bar. I went back to my seat during the flight and tried to type up a web story on my laptop while we were still bouncing around through the eyewall. That granola bar went missing, and its whereabouts are still unknown. [Laughs.] Overall, [it was] an all-time experience for me!

Dawn: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into your line of work?

Ian: Math: Study it early and often. The meteorology courses are challenging but it’s the reason we’re there. We love the weather and that makes it easier to put the work in. Calculus is much harder to love, in my opinion, and will give you big problems if you’re not prepared.

Dawn: What is the best advice that a mentor gave you?

Ian: I mentioned earlier that this career has no road map. There’s no step-by-step process to get you to where you want to go. For that reason, it’s an especially challenging but incredible adventure. Dan Dowling — a mentor, broadcast meteorology professor and eventual colleague of mine at WCAX in Burlington, Vt. — told me to make sure to enjoy the ride.

Ferris Bueller said it best. Look up, look around! This is an industry that forces you to move around, sometimes far away from family and friends for years, miss holidays and birthdays and weddings. It’s not nearly as glamorous as people think; it can be quite ugly at times but it’s often wonderful, too. I’ve had so many experiences working in this business that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Take it in, never be so focused on your goals and future that you forget to enjoy the present, where you are, and the relationships that you make.

Dawn: Looking back, what would you do differently regarding your career?

Ian: Have a short memory — and cut yourself some slack! I was a goalkeeper from Peewee soccer through college. All you can do when you give up a goal is forget about it and stop the next shot. I’ve always wished that I was better at that in regular life because I think it’s a wonderful habit to have. Most people don’t have their jobs broadcast out to the world every day. Embarrassing stuff is going to happen, especially early on. It’s all good. Remember the lessons, forget the mistakes.

Dawn: What gear do you keep at home in case of bad weather?

Ian: Waders. You’re not a field meteorologist until you look like a fly fisherman.

Dawn: Finally, what do you do for fun?

Ian: When I’m not working, I’m hanging out with my wife Cassidy and two pugs, Rickie and Vinny. We love exploring the city and traveling when we can. Golf and skiing are my next two favorites. I’m a huge Boston sports fan, which makes it especially entertaining to live in NYC!

Dawn Wotapka is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who lives for any communication model. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. She is a slow runner, barre enthusiast and an avid Peloton user. To submit tips for her Media Movers column, connect with Dawn on LinkedIn

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