I was honored to have an opportunity recently to speak with Janice Huff, chief meteorologist for NBC4 New York. Janice graduated from Florida State University with her bachelor’s degree in meteorology, and from there entered a career in broadcast meteorology. She has been with NBC New York for more than 25 years, and was inducted as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society in 2020.
While an impressive career and honors by peers and colleagues certainly sets Janice apart, what really drew me to her was her passion- passion for science, passion for her community, and passion for reaching the next generation of scientists.
An interesting path into meteorology
Like so many of us in meteorology, Janice knew as a young girl she wanted to pursue a career in science. She always was fascinated by weather, but wasn’t sure exactly what type of career she wanted. However, she had no intention of going into broadcast meteorology! Janice got her first job as a highschool graduate as a student trainee at the National Weather Service in Columbia, South Carolina. It was here that she had the opportunity to work alongside professional meteorologists and experience all different aspects of the job. She was able to train and become certified for pilot briefings, taking observations, NOAA Weather Radio (back then transmissions were sent out by live people, not automated voices!), teletype, and more. Today, she encourages her interns at the station to get as much hands-on experience as possible because she has personally seen the value of learning by doing.
Two of Janice’s reflections on this valuable experience struck me: 1) that she was connected to this position via an unusual route- her pastor at her church knew she liked meteorology and also had friends who worked for NOAA, and thought to put them in contact, and 2) that Janice was able to work with and learn from people who looked like her- some of the meteorologists she worked with were Black, female, or both.
These two experiences which Janice discussed affirmed some things which I have come to believe firmly over the years. First, I always advise students (and my own kids!) to take the opportunity to get to know and meet people, because the relationships you make can have huge impacts on your life many years down the road. Even if there are internship opportunities that you may not think are in areas you want to pursue as careers, I strongly encourage students to take advantage of any opportunity which crosses their path just to learn, expand their horizons, and develop relationships. In Janice’s case, her pastor took the time to learn about Janice and her interest in meteorology, and that resulted in a traineeship which gave Janice invaluable experience as a young highschool graduate. In this day and age of electronic media, there is still no replacement for one-on-one relationships.
Second, Janice stated how glad she was to see people like herself working in successful careers in the National Weather Service- something which, at the time, she did not observe among broadcast meteorologists. As a female meteorologist who has followed a very non-traditional career path, one of my own passions is getting out to talk to students of all ages and backgrounds to show them what I do and how I got where I am today. One of the challenges I had early on in my career was that I didn’t know of anyone else who had even a similar career track and family situation as mine. However, the benefit of hindsight is that I have learned that it is definitely possible to have a successful career doing what you love, even if you don’t get there in a typical way. Thus, I really want students to see as much as they can early on to know that anything is possible…and my experience and career path is just one example of that. For Janice, the experience of working with Black and female role models in the National Weather Service affirmed her choice of career path and showed her the same.
Janice believes that developing relationships with young people and telling them your own story is one of the best ways to encourage students to pursue their dreams. She often explains to children how fear of doing hard things should never stop them from trying. She actually did not like math as a kid, but after she realized how necessary it was to achieve her goals, she made it a point to work hard and improve at this skill. “People need to know it’s hard for everybody, but it can be done”, Janice says. Guiding by example is one of the best ways to inspire.
Janice recognizes the platform she has, and uses it to make a difference. She cites her work with the Wednesday’s Child adoption initiative as some of the most meaningful work she has done in her career. The Wednesday’s Child program at her NBC station was one of several around the country which were sponsored by Freddie Mac, and focused on spotlighting foster children who were eligible for adoption. During the approximately 20-year run of the program, the number of children in foster care in New York City decreased dramatically. While some of this downtrend was a result of positive policy changes aimed at placing foster children in permanent homes, the Wednesday’s Child program helped to bring awareness to the plight of foster children and resulted in many success stories of children being placed in loving forever homes. She told me one story which impacted her greatly, of meeting a child whom she had profiled a few years earlier at an adoption event in Central Park. At the time of the profile, the child struggled with communication, focus, and many other issues. When Janice met the child in the park with his adoptive parents, the change in the child was stunning. She was able to profile him again as a success story, with his family, and conduct a personal interview at the child’s home. After being adopted, the child overcame so many of the issues which had plagued him during his time in foster care, and was an outgoing, vibrant, thriving child. This story, she says, is one of the most impactful experiences that affirmed the importance of the years of hard work poured into this project.
When I asked Janice who her hero or inspiration was, she credits her mother for being instrumental in instilling the strong values of kindness, strong leadership and independence which remain with her today. On a professional level, she looks to June Bacon-Bercey (see our profile on her here), the first Black woman to receive a meteorology degree and the first female TV meteorologist for inspiration.
Janice’s advice to young people looks a lot like the principles which have guided, and continue to guide, her life: “LIVE YOUR DREAMS, be bold and brave and confident enough to chase them, and catch them, and live them. Never take no for an answer, and always reach back and pull someone else forward, become a mentor, and always be willing to be mentored.”
I hope you have enjoyed getting to know Janice as much as I did- it is inspirational to witness someone living out their principles and making a difference in the lives of others.