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WomanOf the Month 11-02: Kathy Sabine, KUSA TV

Her work hours are unusual (3:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.), but Kathy Sabine, meteorologist for KUSA TV in Denver, appreciates being able to be home when her children return from school, while still pursuing a career. And with three Emmy awards to her credit, including two for best regional weather anchor in the seven-state region, Sabine is passionate about her work.

"I like weather because it’s pretty positive, it’s challenging, and, in the Denver market, it often leads the newscast," she says.

The same could be said of Sabine. She’s a genuinely warm person who characterizes herself as "pretty sensitive. I don’t like covering fires and murders." She enjoys the technical aspects of her job and went back to school—while working—to earn her degree in meteorology. (She also holds a degree in agriculture business management and communications from California Polytechnic State University.) And she’s a go-getter who seems to make the most of every opportunity that comes her way.

Sabine grew up in Northern California and paid her way through college at Cal-Poly. She was the first member of her family to attend college. After setting out to become a vet, she switched to journalism when it became clear her As and Bs wouldn’t be sufficient to secure admission to vet school. Television journalism played to her writing strengths and offered more excitement and the potential for better pay.

"I had done some modeling and infomercials work, and I wasn’t afraid of the camera," she says. "I also had student loans to pay off."

After graduation she tried to get a job with NBC in San Luis Obispo but quickly found out she needed experience. She took a job at the station working behind the camera in production. "No-one had told me you needed to intern to learn the business," she says. "I learned that the hard way. So I started in production, running the camera, audio, the teleprompter. It only paid about $8 per hour, but it made me appreciate what those people do. I am always nice and respectful to them because I remember how I felt when people weren’t nice to me."

Sabine became friendly with a female meteorologist at the station who wanted to learn about horses and riding. A bargain was struck: Sabine traded her equestrian knowledge for satellite and radar tutorials. When her mentor pointed out that no-one anchored the weather on the weekend, Sabine began polishing her skills to get the job. For six months she put up the camera at 1:00 a.m., punched up audio, put in a tape and practiced weathercasts. The effort paid off: She worked in production three days a week and did weather on the weekends.

Her husband’s job transfers led to moves to northern California and eventually back to L.A. By this time Sabine’s first baby, Samantha, was six months old. A news director in Santa Barbara remembered her and asked if she was interested in a position at an ABC affiliate. Another move closer to Santa Barbara, and Sabine was up for the full-time weather job. But her husband’s promotion and a transfer to Monterey interfered once more. Sabine worked at the Fox affiliate in Salinas/Monterey while pregnant with her second child, Will. Then came the call from an L.A. agent.

"I was suspicious at first," she says, "but then I found out he represented really well-known people like Katie Couric. He said he’d send out my tapes to bigger markets and if I got a job, he’d take a commission."

Within a week Sabine had three offers: one from the Weather Channel, one from KUSA in Denver, and one in Dallas. She convinced her husband, an avid fisherman, to make the move to Denver and arrived in 1993, breaking into a top 20 market from a 115 market.

It was a stressful beginning. She had to live in a hotel for six weeks, with her children just six months and three years old. "I had to learn the region’s weather, cities, counties, everything. But I got on the air in about two weeks. I just wanted to launch myself."

Today Sabine says more women—and women of science—are coming into meteorology. She terms herself a "weather geek."

"I watch the Weather Channel in my spare time," she laughs. But she takes her job seriously. "We know that weather can be life-threatening at any time of the year. We’re giving people the information they need in order to dress their kids, take care of their gardens, take outdoor trips."

Sabine and her fellow meteorologists at the station have a friendly competition going to see who can forecast first and get it right. The more serious competition is with the other teams in town, however. "We really try to be first and better than the other guys," she says.

The technology is constantly evolving. "We get new equipment and upgrade our skills all the time," she says. "We get maps and charts about the atmosphere that we study to find out what’s going on. You really have to keep up with it."

Before taking on her current schedule, Sabine used to chase storms nearly every afternoon. She won an Emmy for catching two tornadoes touching down at the same time. She also does radio weathercasts for KOA and a forecast for the web site. After two years she’s adjusted to the morning shift and even likes it.

"I realized I may be a little tired, but then I’m home in the afternoon and I can do dinner, homework with the kids, and all that stuff. I also have the weekends off.

"It’s not the glamorous life many people think it is. Only a handful of people in this business are really rich, and most of the others’ salaries are comparable to what other people make. No-one does my hair and makeup. There are no really good hours. You either get up at 2:15 in the morning as I do, or you work 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. and you have no family life. Or you work weekends.

"You have to have a passion for it. If you work hard and persevere there are some good benefits. But you have to carve out a niche."