June Bacon-Bercey: A look at the first Black woman to earn a meteorology degree

Weather

(WTAJ) — February is Black History Month, and June Bacon-Bercey was a big part of history when it comes to science and meteorology.

She was born in 1928 and grew up in the heart of tornado alley, Wichita Kansas. She graduated high school at a tough time for women, It was especially tough for Black women trying to get into college, let alone for something in atmospheric science.

This self-proclaimed bookworm and nerd decided to continue her education after high school and enrolled at Friends University, located close to her home. Her major was supposed to be math, but she left after two years to follow her dream to become a meteorologist.

She then took a bold step and journeyed west to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). This university was one of the few in the nation to offer a four-year degree in atmospheric sciences. When it was time to declare her major, her advisor suggested that she should study home economics. Bacon-Bercey fought through the process, and in 1954, became the first Black woman to receive that degree.

After graduation, she took a job as a weather analyst and forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Image result for June Bacon-Bercey NOAA
Photo courtesy of Dail St. Claire

Not long after starting that job, her love for the environment took her to a job a the Atomic Energy Commission. She worked on studying the effect of atomic bombs on the Earth’s atmosphere.

In the early 1960s, she returned to the National Weather Service’s New York City office as a radar meteorologist. Toward the end of that decade, she started to get curious about taking her knowledge to television. Her hesitation was due to the fact that during that time, women were used more in a gimmicky fashion, not for their knowledge of the weather. Another consideration was that a black woman presenting the weather on the air was something that was inconceivable.

Eventually, she did make the shift and became the Chief Meteorologist at WGR-TV in Buffalo, New York.

June Bacon-Bercey flanked by two men in front of a WGR TV logo
Photo courtesy of Dail St. Claire

While she was only considered another pretty-faced “weather girl”, and her degree was never publicized to the public, her viewers trusted her with the weather. In 1972, she was the 96th awardee, and first ever woman, recipient of the American Meteorological Society’s Seal of Approval.

In the following decades, she was an advocate for women and minorities to take up atmospheric sciences. She broke down the walls to many in the future. Unfortunately, we lost June Bacon-Bercey in July of 2019 but her legacy continues.

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