A typical South Florida summer forecast includes dark skies, vibrant dresses and a morning deluge of WSVN-7 meteorologist Vivian Gonzalez (@VivianGonzalez7).
There’s loads of airtime too for (WPLG-Ch. 10) Julie Durda, (WFOR-Ch. 4) Lissette Gonzalez, (WTVJ-Ch.6) Jennifer Gray, (WSCV-Ch. 51) Denise Isaac (WLTV23) Paola Elorza and (WLTV-Ch.23) Carolina Ramirez and (WPLG-Ch.10) Betty Davis on weekends for viewers – especially men between the ages of 25 and 54. They take their coffee with a local weather report as South Florida television stations aim to drive morning ratings with a trend that has flooded the market: female meteorologists.
You’ve probably seen them smiling back at you from the side of a bus, a highway billboard, a television ad or social media page even before any of them are up at 2:30 a.m. to compile computer graphics, style their hair and land on your TV set.
“There’s a trick to the madness,” Vivian says in between chuckles over the phone. She’s one of six women delivering 36 live weather updates during an eight-hour, dawn-to-noon block each weekday and an integral member of an all-female anchor team.
Whatever the trick of the importance of the morning slot – the second largest revenue-generator for a TV station and growth area for viewership – station execs are pouring money into the exposure of their morning talent. The personable Gonzalez fits the mold as tightly as the dresses she routinely wears on ‘Today in Florida’.
“I have my own my secret formula,” adds Vivian, a former intern turned full-timer who replaced Durda in November. “And so far it’s working.”
As a Miami-born, Mississippi State broadcast meteorology alum, Lissette Gonzalez (@LissetteCBS4) has in a short time etched out a profile gig in the country’s 16th largest market. By quickly establishing herself into the conscious of viewers, she’s also becoming a popular and sought-out commodity within the community, routinely taking part in charitable events — a lethal 1-2-3 combination for any station looking to brand an on-air talent.
And while female viewership is strong in the morning, there are plenty of male eyeballs tuning in to catch a glimpse of the physically attractive women delivering the weather. Though women in television is nothing new, few had originally sought out a career in meteorology, as is the case with an eight-year vet like Lissette, an ex-Miss Florida turned off-Broadway singer and University of Miami journalism graduate.
Aside from figuring prominently in the station’s morning newscast and doing countless radio weather updates, Lissette has also reached celebrity status around town – that was her working the runway during a Susan B. Koman charity event. She also routinely sings the national anthem at events across South Florida, including Kiss Country’s Chili Cookoff, Dolphins games, and Heat games.
She refutes any suggestions that she is known more for her physical attributes than her ability to construct forecasts.
“I can tell you I’ve worked really hard…I’m in this studio early, I prepare my own computer graphics and do my own research,” Lissette says. “It’s incredibly flattering to be recognized in public, especially in a place I grew up in and love, but I am a meteorologist first and foremost.”
She recounts the impact left on her as a teenager seeing former WTVJ meteorologist Bryan Norcross lead worried viewers through the night during Hurricane Andrew.
“Bryan is a role model for many of us,” Lissette says, although her arrival at WFOR4 wasn’t until 2005, 13 years after the 1992 hurricane. “I wouldn’t be in this position.”
Still, not a day goes by without Vivian taking to Facebook to post a weather update before appeasing her Twitter followers — and ‘lending’ boutique — with a picture exposing her wardrobe; all of which have become must-see amongst her male contingent, whether it’s a neck strap or zippered-dress.
Julie Durda, a former 49ers cheerleader with an ample collection of bikini shots on the web for your viewing pleasure, does much of the same and continues to be heavily marketed since joining the morning team at WPLG10 in March.
“I have the support of great friends around town that trust what I do and believe in me,” Vivian says. “It’s great to be recognized a lot, but my main responsibility is as meteorologist at WSVN.” She also dials up WQAM each Friday for ‘Club Viv’, a five-minute segment where she tackles the weather among other things with Joe Rose.
But this clearly isn’t your mother’s cup of tea.
The influx of women taking hold of the local morning newscast has increased – thanks in part to the number of female forecasters nationwide going from 19 percent in 1999 to 22 percent in 2010. Respected broadcast meteorology programs live at Florida State and Mississippi State. Also, a large part of the viewership is female. Producers also know male viewers – some looking for the attractive anchor – will tune in.
“It’s not a surprise; all of these women represent big dollars,” says a former Spanish-language TV producer. “Stations all over the country realize the more attractive women you put on there, the more it’s going to help ratings, especially in the morning.”
The producer noted the increase in the amount of women pursuing a meteorology career as broadcast meteorology programs around the country have evolved — Isaac is an FSU graduate — and females have taken to studying atmospheric sciences. Mississippi State’s broadcast meteorology program experienced a 54 percent spike from 1993 to 2010 in the number of its female graduates, according to the Radio Television Digital Association.
Vivian contends – and Lissette supports – that most stations, including the one she’s employed by, are sold if you can master the presentation of forecast maps and monitors in a way that relates exceptionally well with your audience, no matter the gender.
“You need to connect with the viewer because you’re telling a story and how it’s going to impact them throughout the day,” Vivian says. “I feel I have that connection with the audience.”
But while being comfortable in her own skin, Vivian has also mastered the study of scientific atmospheres in addition to all the other technical elements required to succeed as a meteorologist.
In addition to a degree, she has passed several evaluations testing her communication skills and technical forecasting capabilities. “It’s not just about the way I look,” she says. “I don’t think I would be here if I didn’t prove my knowledge along the way.”
Just minutes later, Vivian acknowledges she wouldn’t mind being at the same station for years while doing other things besides weather, as long as her looks remain bearable through the camera lens.
“I’ll be here as long as I stay young with good looks,” she says, chuckling. “And I don’t get too wrinkly and old.”
Fernando Ruano Jr. (@wordbyfernie) was looking for his umbrella when Doug Flutie threw that pass (you know the one), was in the upper deck with a high school flame during Game 6 of the 1997 World Series and still has a Farah Fawcett poster somewhere. He has never used PEDs.