How is climate change shaping our weather? And what can we do about it? In our new YouTube series about the wild world of extreme weather, meteorologist Alexandra Steele introduces viewers to scientists, experts, and friends in the field of climate and weather to answer these important questions.
The series premiere, “How bad could hurricanes get?” features Yale Climate Connections meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters and renowned climate communicator Susan Joy Hassol.
Here’s what to know about Alexandra Steele: She has worked as a local meteorologist and for CNN and the Weather Channel. She’s wrapping up a master’s degree in climatology and is passionate about helping the public understand complex weather and climate science.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What led you to meteorology?
How I got into weather was a very circuitous route. Unlike my friends who were in a tornado when they were nine in Wisconsin, and that changed their lives, that is not my story. I was a history of art and architecture major, thinking perhaps I’d be a curator in a museum. And then I got a job in London working for ABC News and wanted to be an international news correspondent. So then I got a master’s in journalism from Northwestern at Medill. And I started working in news and I loved it.
At my first TV news job in Kingston, New York, I was a reporter. And about a year in, the person who was doing the weather at the time was sick and couldn’t come in. And my news director said, “Hey, Alexandra, do you want to try weather?” And I was like, “Weather? What?” And I said, “Sure, of course, I’m up for anything, always have been.” And I just did it. And I loved it. And that was the beginning of my life.
At what point did you start thinking about bringing climate change into meteorology?
I’ve been an on-air meteorologist for 20 years. I’ve worked at CNN and the Weather Channel, the local affiliates in New Haven, Washington D.C., and Atlanta. And in the last few years on the air, I’ve noticed we hit records, more so than we ever have in my 20-year career. And whether it’s a high-temperature record, or a high low-temperature record at night, or a rainfall rate, everything is so much more extreme. And we’re breaking records today. So I just thought the two are so related.
When I do the weather and do my broadcast, I love to make it a story. So concurrent to working, now I’ve gone back and I’m in the process of getting my master’s in climatology to become a climatologist, and I just finished my climate communication certificate. On the air, I kind of like to sprinkle climate nuggets through. I don’t want to preach, I’m not a preacher. I just want people to have a full story and let them extract from what I’m saying and maybe even learn a few things along the way. And just use it as they will in their daily lives. Maybe something will click and it will hit home in some way because I try to tell it in a local way.
What are you excited about in the YouTube project?
It’s incredibly exciting. I’m enjoying it so much. One of my favorite, favorite things is doing all the interviews. Like today, at four o’clock, I’m interviewing the state climatologist from Nevada hot on the heels, no pun intended, of the extreme heat that they’re having. I love to learn. That’s why I went back to school. I sit at the kitchen table with my daughter, and I do my homework, and I study for my tests. And I love it.
In my master’s program, we’ve been exposed to a lot of leading scientists and experts in the field of climatology. And one of them that I studied two years ago was this incredible woman named Susan Joy Hassol. She’s a climate communications expert. She has been doing it for 30 years. She’s an author, she’s dynamic, she’s funny, she’s smart. She’s an incredible person. If I had a choice, Taylor Swift or Susan Joy Hassol, any day [I’d choose] Susan Joy Hassol. So I had such a fan-girl moment interviewing her.
I interviewed Jeff Masters, who I had never met. He’s a legend. So I knew who he was from the Weather Channel. I picked his brain on everything I possibly could. He’s such a font of knowledge and brilliant, and he was such a nice guy to talk to.
So I think one of my favorite things is doing all these interviews and speaking to leading experts and just learning from them. Talk to people I know, people that I’d love to get to know, and then I will share with the public and put stories together about climate but in a different way perhaps than we’ve seen them. That’s our goal, to make it much more accessible.
Tell us something about you. What is your favorite kind of weather?
I’m from upstate New York, so obviously I’m a snow and cold-lover. But living in Atlanta for a long time, I’ve gotten to enjoy the warmer temperatures, and I’m a big exercise person. So I every day, between work, and writing scripts, and tracking, and doing all these things, I exercise, and I go out and walk and run. And when I’m doing that, I’m always looking around at the weather.
But I’m a snow-lover for sure. When I close my eyes and think of the weather, I see big, fat, beautiful wet flakes coming down. You just look outside, and you’re agog at the gorgeousness of what the atmosphere has done.