Meet Jennifer Zeppelin: KTUL’s Meteorologist Mom
Legend has it that Will Rogers said, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it’ll change.” KTUL Channel 8 Chief Meteorologist Jennifer Zeppelin is prepared for any type of change in Tulsa’s weather. Jennifer has forecast hurricanes in Shreveport, Louisiana, torrential rains in San Antonio, Texas and blizzards in Denver, Colorado. And when it comes to Oklahoma tornados, Jennifer has not only seen them, but chased a few across the Midwest.
“Chasing storms is one of the most exciting and scariest things I have ever done in my life,” said Jennifer, Tulsa’s first female chief meteorologist. “I say that because it took almost 12 hours of driving across Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas before we saw any signs of severe storms developing. Then we ended up seeing three tornadoes in one day along the Oklahoma-Kansas state line.”
Jennifer moved to Oklahoma from Denver in 2011 with her husband Jim Berscheidt and son Jordan. Jim, a former meteorologist, is the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Oklahoma State University Foundation. Jim, like Jennifer, is a self-described weather “geek.” In fact, they met while both working as meteorologists at competing television stations in San Antonio.
Jennifer spent most of her youth in Mississippi and earned a degree in broadcast communication from Mississippi State University. Her television broadcasting debut came the summer after her sophomore year in college in a segment called “Farmweek,” which aired on WTOL television in Meridian, Mississippi. Jennifer spent that summer cozying up to chickens and occasionally nudging a cow on the “Farmweek” broadcast.
“It was fun, a real learning experience in many ways,” she laughed. “It was aired statewide so, in essence, it was my big break into broadcasting.”
Once out of college and working in broadcasting at WHLT-TV Hattiesburg, MS, Jennifer found herself not only delivering the news to viewers but also the weather. “I became interested in broadcasting the weather and so went back to Mississippi State to study meteorology. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geosciences with an emphasis in severe weather and forecasting.”
Severe weather in Oklahoma can make Jennifer’s job at KTUL quite demanding. “As far as my schedule, since I’m the chief, I am on call 24/7. If severe storms break out during the wee hours of the morning or on the weekend, our team is in constant communication,” she said. “The great thing about the advancement in weather technology is that we usually have a much better lead time that a severe weather threat is possible, not just for that day, but days leading up to an event.”
Balancing family and job, especially one that can require a night spent at the station can be as dicey as severe weather. Right now the family’s home is in Stillwater, but Jennifer keeps an apartment in Tulsa for those nights when extreme weather keeps her on the air and monitoring the KTUL radar into the late hours. The mornings when she is at home in Stillwater, she enjoys participating in the morning routine of preparing breakfast for her son and walking him to school.
“Since Jim has been in the weather business, he understands my crazy hours,” Jennifer said. “When I am at home in Stillwater, I’m able to take my son to school and help out in his class whenever possible. We walk to school and take our Yorkie, Teddy Bear. It’s great time together, and we get exercise. I try to attend Jordan’s soccer games and make sure he has a big part in helping us make family decisions.”
Jordan thinks it’s “cool” his mom is on television, but at this point in his life he prefers the soccer field to the broadcast studio. And, he has been storm chasing with his dad. “It was cool,” he smiled. “We didn’t see anything, but it was fun.”
Jennifer does not recommend storm chasing for the amateur. “Even with all the advancements in technology, there is still a lot to learn about these wicked twisters. When it comes to chasing, staying a safe distance from a twister is the key. During the day it is a little easier to do that, but you have to always be paying attention. The most dangerous time to chase is at night. Even with radar more readily available on your phones, laptops and other mobile devices, a tornado can pop out at any time.”
Before moving to Oklahoma Jennifer was a meteorologist at KCNC-TV Denver where she earned an Emmy for a special weather program she presented in schools called “Wild Weather Experience.”
Educating children, families and the community on weather and weather safety is a priority for Jennifer and her fellow KTUL meteorologists. The Channel 8 team has an informative show called “Hometown Weather,” which will be used at schools and other venues.“I love educating people and children on weather and weather safety through hands-on applications which show how lighting and tornados form. We plan to visit schools and give kids safety tips and show a video on the kinds of weather we can see in Oklahoma. Our main focus is on tornadoes, lightning and flooding.”
When Severe Weather Strikes
Jennifer Zeppelin’s Weather Tips for Families
When it comes to severe weather there are key things families should do to be safe.
1. Make a plan: Find the safest spot in your home. Review it with the entire family so everyone is on the same page. Make sure you have easy access to flashlights, pillows, blankets, water and a phone. Helmets are great things to add to the list. It doesn’t matter which kind — football, baseball or bicycle are all great for added protection.
2. Above anything else DON’T PANIC! Stay calm during a severe weather event. If you have a plan in place, there won’t be any confusion when a warning is issued.
3. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are out shopping or traveling so you know where to go to seek shelter if severe storms develop.
4. Know the difference between a watch and warning. A “Watch” means there is the potential for something to develop over the next several hours. It could be a tornado, lightning, hail or heavy rain. A “Warning” means it is happening right now. A tornado has been spotted or detected on radar or it’s flooding, hailing or lightning.