You should know… Jason Samenow

Photo by David Stuck
Photo by David Stuck

“Weather is something we all share,” Jason Samenow says. “It’s probably the most popular topic of conversation that there is.”

As weather editor for The Washington Post and the leader of the Capital Weather Gang blog, Samenow could be the most popular guest at any party — especially if a blizzard is brewing. The 39-year-old Washington native has had a lifelong fascination with snow, which led to a master’s degree in atmospheric science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Since July, Samenow has been forecasting sunny weather and storm events to drive-time audiences on WAMU-88.5 FM, in rotation with other Weather Gang members, including meteorologist Angela Fritz. Samenow offered his outlook for weathercasting in a telephone interview.


What’s it like being able to talk about the weather but not being able to do anything about it?

Forecasting the weather comes with a great deal of responsibility. People are making decisions based on the information you’re providing. But weather is an inexact science and sometimes we don’t get it right. One of the things we put an emphasis on is communicating the uncertainty — explaining what the full range of possibilities is, so people aren’t caught off guard and can make the best weather-related decision possible.


So in that sense you are doing something about the weather. You just aren’t changing the weather.

Right. You’re helping people respond and hopefully make prudent decisions based on what it’s going to do.


You’re a native. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Falls Church in the Lake Barcroft community. I went to a mix of private and public schools. I attended Potomac School in McLean for high school. Prior to that I attended Fairfax public schools. I’ve lived in the D.C. area my whole life, outside of college and graduate school.


How did you become fascinated with the weather?

It was around age 10 when I caught the weather bug. We had a couple of snowstorms back to back that winter and we were out of school for an extended period of time. And I just became fascinated with the impact that weather can have on the D.C. area. I also just like snow. I’ve always been enamored by snow. It’s visual quality. The way it shuts things down. It transforms the city into this winter wonderland. Those qualities I liked about snow when I was young I continue to like, although now under the pressure of having to predict how much is going to fall and how quickly and where and when.


How is weathercasting changing?

I think what’s changed most during my career is the fact that weather has gone from a forecaster delivering the information to you to more of a shared experience. Now that we have blogs, we have social media, the user of weather information is a lot more involved in the forecast process. They’re able to directly interact with forecasters with questions, share photos, share videos. Because of this two-way communication, it’s a much more enriching experience for everyone. The forecaster benefits from the information that the user provides and the user has much greater access to the forecaster.


What do people look for in a weather report?

People want to know what’s going to happen in their backyard and they want to know at what time. Location and timing are key. Understanding that the more specific you are, the more uncertainty there is.


Did you have a favorite weathercaster growing up?

Bob Ryan.


You worked for him.

I interned for him when I was a high school senior. I’m fortunate now to call him a friend. We go for lunch. He was a mentor for me early in my career. He’s had a huge influence on anybody who grew up in this region who is interested in weather. Channel 4 led in the ratings and he was one of the main reasons. He has an incredible voice and is so very knowledgeable and spoke with a lot of authority about D.C. weather.


When you give a weather report, you often speak about the future in the present tense: “Sunday is sunny, Monday is cooler.”

I think it’s more conversational. When we do a radio broadcast, we have 30-to-40 seconds. So we want to be as conversational and concise as possible. Present tense works best for that. It conveys a little more confidence.


Is there any way that you can stop the naming of snowstorms? 

Naming snowstorms just for the sake of it is unnecessary. But I do think there’s a value when there’s a historic event which is going to be remembered for decades to come. You think back to Snowmageddon [2010] or the Blizzard of ’96 or the Presidents Day snowstorm of 1979. At Capital Weather Gang we don’t name every snowstorm, but if there’s one that has a particularly high impact on the area, we solicit name suggestions from our readers. So we make it more about the community and we give them the opportunity to come up with a name which will stick which has some meaning. It does tend to lose its meaning if you do it every time.

When we do this we send a call out for names and we get hundreds of suggestions. Then we put them up for a vote. [For January’s blizzard,] Snowzilla won.


What’s Angela Fritz really like?

She’s sitting across from me so I’d better be careful. She’s got a great radio voice. She’s got good meteorological chops. She’s a good writer, a good editor and I’m happy to work with her.





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