Weather – for many people it appears as the best possible subject for small talk.
However, not everyone come to think that their own observations and experiences of the weather are a different matter than the views of the field of science studying the weather, i.e., meteorology.
This is something meteorologist Anniina Valtonen regularly notices in her work.
She studied meteorology, the science dealing with the atmosphere and its phenomena, at the University of Helsinki. Valtonen works as a TV meteorologist at Yleisradio (Yle), on Yle's morning television and eight thirty news.
“Meteorology is a field of science seen on TV every night,” says Valtonen.
Presenting a weather forecast on the TV screen is one part of TV meteorologist's work. The other part is preparing the forecast and weather maps for the news broadcast.
“If the forecast says, for example, that low pressure arrives in Finland and reaches Jyväskylä area but then stops in the south, one hundred kilometres away, in meteorological terms, the forecast is quite successful, as the margin of error is small.”
But people in Jyväskylä may feel quite differently. This sometimes leads to Valtonen receiving fiery feedback after the broadcast.
“The weather forecast is a forecast, not a promise. It is a great skill to make decisions and present them publicly to others, knowing that everything you say is uncertain. It requires strength of character.”
Studies in meteorology, on the other hand, taught her perseverance above all.
The changing face of expertise
Valtonen was eight years old when she discovered that she wanted to be a meteorologist. The family was on a night flight, returning home from a holiday on Tenerife.
Valtonen was sitting in the mid-seat between her parents. Over Germany, the captain announced that the passengers should look out the window. There was a thunderstorm raging out in the sky that was harmless to the plane but looked impressive.
Valtonen was also impressed by the view. She asked her father where the captain had found out about the thunderstorm.
“My dad replied that from a meteorologist. That's when I thought it was cool. I wanted to become a meteorologist too.”
Still in upper secondary school, Valtonen had a rosy image of what it is like to study the science. She thought like so many others: the meteorologist seen on television is ‘only’ a person hosting the broadcast, who simply slaps weather symbols on a map.
“Of course, I knew there was science behind it all. I just didn't know exactly what it was like.”
In Finland, meteorology can only be studied at the University of Helsinki. Before starting her studies, Valtonen dreamed that the courses would go through concrete contents, such as learning how to identify different cloud formations.
“Well, there was none of that, except on one course. The studies were about mathematics and physics, and the courses were heavy, laborious and demanding. The most important thing the university has taught me is perseverance. When you start modelling atmospheric changes and make only one small error in the derivation, the entire calculation goes wrong. It may take a long time to spot the error.”
At the same time, the appreciation for the professionals working in the field increased. Valtonen did not dream about working in a visible role on television; instead, she planned to become a meteorologist on-call. A background influencer, who prepares forecasts for pilots, for example.
However, she ended up as one of Finland's most well-known TV meteorologists. In this position, for her part, she now wants to expand the image of what acceptable expertise entails. During her career, Valtonen has received feedback on her colourful clothing and “unnecessarily” cheery way of performing.
It reflects how narrow professional roles are in society.
“A stereotypic image of an expert is a middle-aged man or woman in a business suit. In my opinion, showing one’s personality does not rob anyone of their expertise.”