For hockey players who first learned the game on frozen ponds, the Winter Classic is a throwback to their youth. On January 1st, the NHL’s signature game will invade Nationals Park to pay homage to that tradition. But one of the major story lines heading into New Year’s day won’t be hockey; it’ll be about weather.
“It maybe snow, maybe it’s gonna be rain,” Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin recently said of Washington D.C.’s unpredictable climate. “You never know what the weather’s going to be.”
If you’ve seen NBC’s most recent Winter Classic commercial, there’s no doubt what kind of forecast they’re hoping for. As CGI’d snow falls around Washington’s historic landmarks, the clip announces, “hockey returns outdoors.” Barack Obama crows in the background, “let us brave once more the icy currents and endure what storms may come.”
The mere chance of snow excites fans. If the sky spits just a little that day, it could provide bigger ratings and better visuals both for NBC and a league eager to reach new fans. The weather will have a major impact on the playing surface as well. A long stretch pass from the defensive zone just won’t make it if the ice sheet is blanketed with snow… or puddles.
With all that on the line, one of the most interested bystanders will be emerging-star weekend meteorologist for NBC Washington, Amelia Segal. And for good reason. Not only does she love weather, she’s also from this area and loves the sport.
Born and Raised in Frederick
Growing up on a Frederick County farm, Amelia Segal never thought her path would lead her to a public life on television.
As we sat down at NBC’s weather desk in late November, Segal, wearing a lovely blue dress and preparing her live 11 PM Sunday forecast, revealed that her story was more methodical than inspirational.
“People in this industry usually say, ‘I saw a tornado as a kid and that’s what inspired me!'” Segal said. “I always took the temperature outside of my house. I really loved math and science. That’s what I was good at.”
Segal’s family, who infrequently hosted horses, chickens, and peacocks on their Middletown farm, would eat capons (a smallish type of chicken) that they raised themselves. While the vastness of their farm limited how much Segal could hang out with neighborhood friends, she and her brother were involved with extracurricular activities around the area, including hockey.
“My brother got into ice hockey and played for the Frederick Phantoms,” Segal explained. “He then went on to play for the Little Capitals. Growing up, I was always going to his games over the weekend and going all around the area (Piney Orchard, Laurel, Chevy Chase). We traveled up and down the East Coast and even went to Canada sometimes.
“Seeing him play made me want to as well,” Segal continued. “I could ice skate. So I played in-house hockey for a couple of seasons, and then I went on to play field hockey and lacrosse in high school.”
Meanwhile, Segal– who worked as a snowboard instructor at Whitetail Ski Resort– constantly geeked out about the weather. So much so it prompted her mother to ask a life-changing question.
“‘Are you interested in meteorology? You’re interested in weather and there’s also a lot of math and science and a huge communication aspect to it,’ Segal recalled her mother saying. “I really liked the idea so we visited Penn State and looked at the meteorology program.”
After seeing what it would take to complete the major, Segal challenged herself as much as she could at Middletown High School and took AP Physics and AP Calculus to get a head start on her future.
Segal’s friends always believed she was destined for a future on TV, going so far as to writing “good luck becoming the weather girl” in her yearbooks.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘How do you go from living on a farm to doing the weather?” Segal, who graduated from high school in 2004, said. “I had great teachers that were really invested into their students. For a public school system, I thought it was really great. For AP classes, Mr. Sheffler was my teacher and I give him credit for preparing us. You think of something so little like taking an AP test in high school, but that allowed me to test out of Calculus in college, which ultimately allowed me to graduate college a year early.”
How Grandma Helped Amelia Land Her First Big Gig
Segal’s first job in meteorology came in college with CNET, an access television channel for Centre County, Pennsylvania. While forecasting weather there, she became quite familiar with weather phenomena such as lake effect snow.
It would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. With a glut of credits, Segal graduated early and started looking for her first job after college. She got a call from nana.
“My grandmother lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, and called me one day,” Segal explained. “She said, ‘I saw the TV station that I always watch here has an opening listed for a meteorologist in the newspaper. You really should apply.'”
Segal heeded her advice and landed an interview. WJET/WFXP loved Segal’s look, intelligence, and the fact that she wouldn’t get homesick (her father’s family lived in Erie too). The station gave her a shot at being their new weekend meteorologist.
In her first year in Erie, the small lake-side city, whose junior team hosted Caps rookie Andre Burakovsky last season, recorded its second snowiest winter of record.
“Almost every day or every other day it would be snowing, sometimes just one inch, and sometimes closer to 10 inches would fall,” Segal told to the Frederick News-Post last year. “It was incredible to be forecasting so many snowfall events. I realized that not only is severe weather coverage essential, but disruptive weather coverage, too.”
After her second year there, Segal received a tip from a college friend and landed a job right up the road in Buffalo. She joined the morning shift at WIVB-WNLO.
“It was perfect because it’s a larger market, but it’s similar forecasting,” Segal said. “It’s all lake effect snow driven.” The station did all it could to develop her.
Three years later, Segal got her big break after what she called “an amazing string of events.” Her morning show co-worker Joe Arena was applying for a new job. NBC 4 Washington’s current news director, Michael Goldrick, currently working in Pittsburgh, was watching his tape. He saw Amelia doing the weather and like many others along the way and thought she had major talent.
After initially trying and failing to lure Amelia to come to the ‘Burg (ew), Goldrick moved on a year later and was named Vice President of NBC 4’s News on November 26th, 2012.
NBC 4 Washington had an opening to their number-one weather team, so Goldrick called Segal to fill the position. She happily agreed to come home and started in March 2013.
“I always loved living in Frederick County,” Segal said, who moved to DC to be closer to the Northwest station. “You remember in high school and your friends are like, “I can’t wait to get out of here.” I always wondered why you would even say that. I loved this area. It was always my goal to go to college, start my career, then migrate back to this area some day.”
NBC 4 gave Segal a wacky schedule, which would make her familiar with a wide variety of the channel’s audience. On Wednesdays, she works 9 AM to 5 PM behind-the-scenes, sometimes spending her time talking to students and visiting schools. Thursday and Friday, she works 3 AM to noon, contributing to the morning news with fellow meteorologist Tom Kierein. You’ll typically find her doing hits out in the community with NBC’s storm truck. She then concludes her day, contributing to the midday show from 11 AM to noon.
Over the weekend, Segal shifts to the night shift. She does the weather at 11 PM on Saturdays, with the local news segueing into Saturday Night Live. After football concludes on Sundays, you’ll find Segal there as well.
Teaming With The Caps
In October, Segal traveled to Kettler Capitals Iceplex to do a segment for the morning show. It was the day of the Washington Capitals 2014-15 home opener, and Segal thought it would be good to forecast the weather for Caps fans that night. Her coworker Brian, who was in charge of the morning show, asked if she wanted to do the shoot while wearing skates. Segal was excited.
“I was like, ‘Oh yeah! Sure! I haven’t put my skates on for ten years. This is going to be fun.'”
While in the gym, one of the Caps’ marketers watched Segal’s segments and was impressed by her hockey knowledge and smooth skating. The Caps asked her to be a part of Hockey ‘N Heels, the team’s signature event for female fans held in November. Segal agreed.
The Caps asked Segal to conduct an interview with Caps head coach Barry Trotz towards the end of the event.
“That night was so fun,” Segal said. “The ladies got to see where the Caps work out, talk to the team chef, the trainers, some of the Caps were there teaching them how to shoot. They showed them some of the Winter Classic equipment. Then I got to go on with Barry.”
I asked her what the best part of the night was.
“I was so impressed because all of the questions were complicated ones about the game,” Segal responded. “I was learning things. Someone asked how the game was different in the NHL than European leagues. Someone asked: why do you have this line-up? Why wouldn’t you put in this guy? Barry explained how he’d use younger players and get them comfortable in the league. I was so proud of how intelligent our fan base is.”
A Snowy Winter Classic?
In about three weeks, the biggest hockey game in Washington DC history will come to a sold-out Nationals Park. The Capitals and Blackhawks, who have both designed custom new jerseys for the outdoor game, are currently in the midst of filming a four-week television show for EPIX.
Will the teams play on a snowy sheet of ice, or will it be sunny and hot come puck drop on January 1st? Washington’s weather is known to be especially volatile in January. Segal helped me out with some fancy weather stats.
Last year, the month of January produced the most snowfall (6.6) at Reagan National Airport since 7.3 inches fell in January 2011. The average high on New Year’s day in this area is 44 degrees; the average low is 29. It is certainly possible that it could snow that day.
Consider this. Last year’s month of January featured much lower-than-normal temperatures in the first third of the month. The average monthly temperature this past January was tied with 1873 and 1984 for the 38th coldest January on record (and the 15th coldest since official observations were taken at Reagan in July 1945). There were seven days that month where the high temperature fell below freezing, the most in any month since January 2004.
So last year’s January was abnormally cold here. That’s awesome. Then again, on New Year’s day in 2005, it was 69 degrees and you could have worn shorts outside. It’s a crapshoot – one Amelia will be monitoring closely.
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