The untold story of June Bacon-Bercey, the 1st American woman to become a TV meteorologist
June Bacon-Bercey was a pioneering meteorologist. She was the first African American woman meteorologist and the first woman television meteorologist in the US.
On Nov. 9, 1965, a massive power outage struck the Northeast in the heart of the evening rush hour, leaving more than 30 million people without electricity for up to 13 hours. June Bacon-Bercey was commuting home from her meteorology job at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, where she studied the fallout patterns caused by nuclear detonation.
She also was a single mom with two girls under 10 who were safe at home with a nanny in Flushing, New York, roughly 12 miles away from her Rockefeller Center office. Her No. 7 subway train was now powerless; Bacon-Bercey was not.
She walked home, checking on her girls in the wee hours to make sure they were safe. Then she showered, changed and walked right back to the office, hoping to get there by 8 a.m. She arrived at 7 and worked a full day.
“When her boss showed up, he was stunned to see her,” Bacon-Bercey’s daughter Dail St. Claire told AccuWeather in a telephone interview. “But that’s who she is; she was a working mom and the weather doesn’t shut down. She had important responsibilities and she was going to get them done."
In 1955, June Bacon-Bercey became the first African-American woman to receive a degree in meteorology; she went on to become America’s first female TV meteorologist and the first woman and African-American to be awarded the American Meteorological Society’s (AMS) Seal of Approval for excellence in television weathercasting.
A headshot showing June Bacon-Bercey, first woman to become TV meteorologist in the US. (Photo courtesy of Dail St. Claire)
And she won $64,000 on the TV game show "The $128,000 Question," which she used to start a scholarship fund for women studying atmospheric sciences, hoping the money would help women become meteorologists. "Education was No. 1, so scholarship was a passion and she always wanted to share it with those who were less fortunate," St. Claire said.
“I was discouraged (from becoming a meteorologist), and other women were discouraged,” Bacon-Bercey told The Washington Post in 1977. “If they feel they’ve got some money behind them, it might be better.”
Bacon-Bercey, now 86 and dealing with health issues, showed an early aptitude for science; a teacher in Kansas noticed her interest in water displacement and buoyancy and recommended a career in meteorology. She received her bachelor's degree in 1954 from the University of Kansas and a master's degree in meteorology from UCLA in 1955, making her the first African-American woman to do so.
Bacon-Bercey’s career took off from there, as she worked for the National Meteorological Center in Washington, D.C., Sperry Rand, and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
She joined an NBC TV station in Buffalo in 1970 as a scientific news correspondent but became the weathercaster when her predecessor was fired and the station needed an emergency replacement. She kept the job, becoming the station’s chief meteorologist, one of the first African-American women to hold the title.
"She wasn't in Buffalo very long, but she made Buffalo broadcasting history as the first woman of color to be on a TV news anchor team here," said Buffalo-area historian Steve Cichon. "She was also the first scientist to have the job here. She was an important trailblazer in many ways."
The precedent-setting AMS Seal of Approval followed in 1972, and Bacon-Bercey moved on to careers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS). While at NOAA, she was instrumental in establishing a program at Jackson State University in 1977 to encourage minorities to pursue careers in meteorology.
Bacon-Bercey helped found the AMS Board on Women and Minorities to increase the number of women and minorities in the atmospheric sciences. (Photo courtesy of Dail St. Claire)
Around that time, Bacon-Bercey also helped found the AMS Board on Women and Minorities to increase the number of women and minorities in the atmospheric sciences.
“Leadership and commitment by professional societies play a significant role in remedying the severe shortage of black Americans in the profession of meteorology,” Bacon-Bercey wrote in the May 1978 “Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.”
“My mom was always very focused on supporting women in meteorology because that’s who she was, but also women in the electronic media,” St. Claire, the chief operating officer of Park Avenue Finance, told AccuWeather. “I’ve always marveled at how she was able to carve opportunities in a male-dominated world.
“I recognize that one of the opportunities that sustained her and certainly sustained me is really her undying passion,” St. Claire added. “She would say, ‘No is not in our vocabulary.’ And I listened to my mom because I was too afraid not to. But I’d always remember that as a youth … and that has actually sustained me in my career."
Bacon-Bercey was named Minority Pioneer for Achievements in Atmospheric Sciences in 2000 and is remembered for her groundbreaking legacy.
“She was obviously extremely successful ... ” NOVA's director of education and outreach Ralph Bouquet told AccuWeather. “She did so much and also gave back in so many prominent ways – with a scholarship, with setting up a meteorology lab at Jackson State, just really impressive things that one person was able to accomplish.
“How many people could have done that, could have been in that position to produce so much but also give back so much?”
June Bacon-Bercey on the air in Buffalo during the early 1970s. (Photo courtesy June Bacon-Bercey.)
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