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Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

HOUSTON (KIAH) June Bacon-Bercey is well known for being the first trained on-air female meteorologist in the United States. She is also the first African American woman to graduate with a degree in meteorology from the University of California.

Bacon-Bercey was born on October 23, 1928 and raised in Wichita, Kansas where her daughter, Dail St. Claire, recalls that her mother’s love for the sciences was also birthed.

Her passion to become a meteorologist came when she saw a picture of the mushroom cloud on the front page of a newspaper in Wichita as a young girl. Already having a passion for science, and clearly an inquisitive mind, she was most concerned about what those particles were going to do to the atmosphere, clearly knowing that’s where they were released.

Dail St. Claire
Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

Bacon-Bercey’s dedication for science led her to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) where St. Claire says her mother faced many obstacles. “When she transferred as a math major with honors from Friend’s University in Wichita, Kansas to UCLA specifically to pursue a four-year meteorology program, her college advisor advised her to pursue home economics and absolutely not meteorology as a career. He said meteorology was not for her. She went on and took thermodynamics as well as home economics. She got a D- in home economics and an A+ in thermodynamics.”

Despite the subjections, in 1954 Bacon-Bercey became UCLA’s first African American woman to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in meteorology.

My mom came up during a time when if you were black and doing professions outside of the traditional black professions of the day you were the first and you were going through instruments of all obstacles.

Dail St. Claire
Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

That same year Bacon-Bercey accepted a position as a weather forecaster and analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS). In 1959, Bacon-Bercey pursued her childhood interest and took a job at the Atomic Energy Commission as a senior advisor. In the 1960s, she returned to the NWS as a radar meteorologist in New York.

It was in the early 1970s, when Bacon-Bercey would have the chance to make history once again after taking a job at WGR-TV in Buffalo, New York as a science reporter. She made her mark as a reporter, covering the Attica Prison uprising of 1971.

Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

However, she got her big break during her time at the station when Frank Benny, the main on-air meteorologist was arrested for robbing a bank, and Bacon-Bercey was asked to step in, making her the first ever on-air trained female meteorologist.

St. Claire said her mother’s pivot was strategic, in terms of how there was no one who looked like her doing what she did at the time. Whether it was from a gender or race perspective, she was prepared to advance herself in that opportunity. It was not given to her.

“Then the chance came for her to advance herself in the wake of that unexpected news. She was prepared to do the 5 p.m. show and believed that the public would speak, and that is actually what happened after her first forecast. The public did speak and WGR-TV listened,” St. Claire said.

Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

Bacon-Bercey caught the attention of the American Meteorologist Society, where she received the Seal of Approval for excellence in on-air meteorology and became the first woman and the first African American to receive the award. Bacon-Bercey co-founded the American Meteorological Society’s Board on Women and Minorities. Through the board, she started a science fair program to encourage students of color and others to pursue careers in science.

Bacon-Bercey won $64,000 as a contestant on the gameshow The $128,000 Question. Then through the American Geophysical Union (AGU), she created a scholarship to support women studying atmospheric sciences. She also donated funds to Jackson State University for their meteorology department.

She looked around the country and at that time, Jackson State University was the only historically black university with a four-year meteorology degree. After looking at the program, she noticed the one thing they didn’t have, was a lab, so she funded that lab. As of today, the program has graduated a number of meteorologists and others who’ve pursued careers in science, technology, engineering and math. That was my mom‘s vision.

Dail St. Claire
Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

June Bacon-Bercey passed away on July 3, 2019 at the age of 90. In honor of Black History Month and welcoming Women’s History Month, meteorologist Star Harvey spoke with other African American meteorologist across the United States about how Bacon-Bercey’s legacy has opened doors for them in their pursuit of meteorology. Here’s a look: