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Lam keeps his eyes on the skies

Zoom image: Carl Lam calls meteorology “performance art.” Carl Lam calls meteorology “performance art.” Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Carl Lam calls meteorology “performance art.”

Photos and text by MEREDITH FORREST KULWICKI

Published August 13, 2021

Editor's note: Summer Hours is a photo series focusing on UB staff members who use the longer days to pursue interesting hobbies, causes and other endeavors outside of their day jobs.

Life takes a lot of turns between ages 8 and 28. Carl Lam followed many a “shiny object,” as he says, but still managed to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a meteorologist in his hometown.

Lam, a pre-health adviser in the Exploratory and Pre-Professional Advising Center, moonlights as a freelance television meteorologist for Rochester’s WHEC and Buffalo’s WGRZ, and also does radio weather reports for Toronto-based CFTR-AM (680 NEWS) on the weekends. He earned his meteorology certificate from Mississippi State University in 2018.

“It’s scientific performance art, which is interesting because my background is in broadcasting, music and science,” Lam says. “Technically, I’m at work, but this is just so enjoyable.”

Zoom image: Lam checks the last details before recording a tease ahead of the first newscast. Lam checks the last details before recording a tease ahead of the first newscast. Photo Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Lam checks the last details before recording a tease ahead of the first newscast.

Zoom image: Lam starts his shift by reviewing the most updated weather models. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki Lam starts his shift by reviewing the most updated weather models. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
Zoom image: The weather desk is in the main TV studio area. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki The weather desk is in the main TV studio area. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
Zoom image: Lam creates his own graphics for the forecast, including the 10-day outlook and tease elements. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki Lam creates his own graphics for the forecast, including the 10-day outlook and tease elements. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
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Lam records a 10-second weather tease.

Lam says he fills in as a broadcaster mostly during the summer, when full-time meteorologists are more likely to be on vacation. His typical shift includes reviewing the most recent weather models; developing his forecast, complete with graphics; writing social media posts and station website stories; and recording teases and smartspeaker forecasts, as well as appearing on three to four newscasts.

And that’s all on a calm weather day.

“On active weather days, our job and our skill as a meteorologist is really put to the test because it’s how well you can adapt to a consistently changing situation,” Lam explains.

His forecasts are delivered without a script, he says, because you can’t plan what you will say when the graphics are constantly changing, as a storm system dissipates or intensifies quickly. Working with the green screen took some practice too, says Lam, since you could be pointing to the wrong city. Plus, there is the occasional visitor.

“Sometimes you have spiders crawling on them [the green screen],” Lam says. “You just kind of have to keep it together.”

Zoom image: The cameras at WHEC are operated from the control room, and no one stands at the camera while Lam is on air. The cameras at WHEC are operated from the control room, and no one stands at the camera while Lam is on air. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

The cameras at WHEC are operated from the control room, and no one stands at the camera while Lam is on air.

Zoom image: A rundown shows the order of the show, including camera positioning and the text that will appear on the screen. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki A rundown shows the order of the show, including camera positioning and the text that will appear on the screen. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
Zoom image: Lam wears an earpiece to stay connected with the control room. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki Lam wears an earpiece to stay connected with the control room. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
Zoom image: The monitor at the side of the green screen shows Lam what the audience at home is seeing during his weather report. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki The monitor at the side of the green screen shows Lam what the audience at home is seeing during his weather report. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
Zoom image: A WHEC co-worker stops by to ask about the weekend weather to see if it will impact his plans. A WHEC co-worker stops by to ask about the weekend weather to see if it will impact his plans. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

A WHEC co-worker stops by to ask about the weekend weather to see if it will impact his plans.

Lam says he is sometimes recognized while out and about, and people ask for an impromptu forecast on the spot, which makes him laugh.

“It’s funny because they think that we can accelerate a timeline, or change the weather,” he says. “I’m not a higher power. I just get paid to analyze the weather.”

Carl Lam has worked at UB for five years. He earned a master’s degree in higher education administration and a master’s degree in music, both from UB, and will soon complete a MBA program at the School of Management. He received an undergraduate degree in journalism and music from SUNY-Fredonia. He has freelanced as a meteorologist for about five years.