In honor of Black History Month, we are taking the opportunity to look back on and celebrate the life and work of meteorologist June Bacon-Bercey.

A woman of many "firsts," Bacon-Bercey broke many barriers and paved the way for others, particularly for women and African Americans in meteorology. 

What You Need To Know

  • June Bacon-Bercey broke many barriers as an African American woman in science 

  • She was the first African American female degreed broadcast meteorologist

  • She established a scholarship in the late 1970s from game show winnings

  • The American Meteorological Society renamed an award in her honor

Noted as the first African American and first female degreed broadcast meteorologist, Bacon-Bercey is considered a pioneer in the field of meteorology. Born in 1928 in Wichita, Kansas, ever since she was a kid, she knew she wanted to follow a path of math and science.

In 1954, she became the first African American female in the United States to earn a bachelor of science degree in meteorology from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

According to her official biography provided by her daughter, Dail St. Claire, when she arrived at UCLA, a counselor suggested she major in home economics instead of meteorology.

Bacon-Bercey once said, "when I earned an 'A' in thermodynamics and a 'B' in home economics, I knew my decision was the right one."

Her biography also states that her career extended well beyond television weather. Before retiring from a position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1993, she held positions as a weather forecaster, weather analyst, radar meteorologist, aviation meteorologist, broadcast journalist, public administrator and educator.

She had a lasting impact on the field of broadcast meteorology, especially during a time when weather broadcasts within local newscasts were considered more entertainment-based than science-focused.

June-Bacon Bercey on set at WGR-TV in Buffalo, N.Y. (Courtesy: Dail St. Claire)

In 1972, she became the first African American and first female to earn the AMS Seal of Approval for Excellence in Television Weathercasting

Her daughter recalled the day that her mother got the news of this accomplishment. "She was beaming. We sat down over tea, as she often did with me to discuss life matters. Upon sharing the significance of the Seal, she said, 'no greater honor can come to me than earning the respect of my colleagues.'"

This came after joining WGR-TV in Buffalo, New York, in 1970, where she became the chief meteorologist after just four months at the station. This was a remarkable feat for the era.

Nearly five decades later, a 2018 study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society revealed that only 8% of chief meteorologists are female. 

Bacon-Bercey became a role model to many African American aspiring meteorologists, including Janice Huff, Chief Meteorologist at WNBC in New York.  

"When I was a child, I never saw anyone who looked like me delivering the forecast on television, so I never thought of broadcasting as an option for a future career. I wanted to be a scientist and work behind the scenes, and I was on my way to doing just that. Then I learned of June Bacon-Bercey, and I was certain that any and all things were possible," said Huff.

Alan Sealls, Chief Meteorologist at WPMI-TV in Mobile, Alabama also has been moved by the life of Bacon-Bercey. He described her as "a woman who likely opened doors for women, African-Americans, and degreed meteorologists in broadcast meteorology."

Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, Director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at the University of Georgia who served as the second African American president of the American Meteorological Society, shared his appreciation for Bacon-Bercey. "I cannot imagine the struggles that Mrs. Bacon-Bercey faced as she trailblazed on behalf of women and people of color," he said.   

Women's issues and racial equality were of the highest importance to Bacon-Bercey. She helped launch the AMS Board on Women and Minorities in 1975, which continues to operate to this day. It was renamed the Board on Representation, Accessibility, Inclusion, and Diversity (BRAID) in 2020.

In 1977, it wasn't weather, but her music knowledge that awarded her $64,000 on the game show "The $128,000 Question." She used her earnings to launch the June Bacon-Bercey Scholarship through the American Geophysical Union (AGU) for women pursuing careers in meteorology and atmospheric sciences.  

She felt the scholarship could help women become meteorologists. "I was discouraged from becoming a meteorologist. If women feel they have some money behind them, it might be better," she stated according to her official biography.

AGU offered this scholarship from 1978 to 1990. It became reestablished in 2021 through the generosity of her daughter, Dail St. Claire, and other family and friends.  

June Bacon-Bercey speaking at a luncheon. (Photo Courtesy: Dail St. Claire)

Bacon-Bercey also funded the meteorology lab at Mississippi's Jackson State University (JSU) in 1980. At the time, JSU was the only historically black university or college with a meteorology program in the United States. 

Janice Huff remarked on her achievements. "She showed great strength and determination to study in a field where there were so few who looked like her. She persevered despite the odds against her, and for that, I am eternally grateful."

Bacon-Bercey passed away in July 2019 at the age of 90. Her legacy will live on for generations to come through the American Meteorological Society's (AMS) June Bacon-Bercey Award for Broadcast Meteorology.  

The AMS renamed the Award for Broadcast Meteorology in her honor. Since 1977, this award has annually recognized broadcast meteorologists "for sustained long-term contributions to the community through the broadcast media, or for outstanding work during a specific weather event."

Since its inception, three Award for Broadcast Meteorology recipients have been female. By honoring Mrs. Bacon-Bercey's legacy, women and minorities might be encouraged to strive for this award and submit future nominations. 

Her daughter, Dail St. Claire, reflected on this honor. "My family and I are grateful to the AMS for honoring my mother, June Bacon-Bercey. There is no greater honor for an on-air meteorologist to serve the public. The field of meteorology will one day fully represent the rich diversity of all people."

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