Shattering The Glass Ceiling With A Thunderstorm Advisory

For the first time, a woman made the call. Nick Oxford/The New York Times

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People who live in storm-prone regions of the United States have grown accustomed to warnings about thunder, tornadoes, hail, and other forms of harsh weather. But did you know that these advisories have come exclusively from men — until this week?

That’s right, it wasn’t until Elizabeth Leitman of the Storm Prediction Center issued a tornado watch on Wednesday that a woman’s name was associated with such a forecast.

A male-dominated industry

While women have unquestionably made great leaps in fostering more equality across many industries in recent generations, many workplaces are trailing behind.

Leitman, who has been associated with Oklahoma’s Storm Prediction Center for more than a dozen years, is currently one of just two women on its staff. There are 10 times as many men.

“As far as I know, there’s been five of us,” she said of female forecasters throughout the seven decades that the facility has been in operation.

Until Leitman, none of those women had attained the position of lead forecaster. By doing the research needed to issue a tornado watch on Wednesday, she became the first female to do so.

A close-knit community

Although she is one of just a handful of women in the center’s history, Leitman feels like an integral part of the team.

“When people come to SPC, they don’t tend to leave,” she said, noting that the longevity of employees means that the current crop of forecasters is “not that far removed from individuals who were here in the ‘60s and ‘70s.”

There are currently only five lead forecasters — and as the first woman to earn that title, Leitman is afforded some serious street cred.

Chief of Forecast Operations Bill Bunting, who leads the entire operation, explained: “These are national experts. They are the best of the best.”

Chris Agee
Chris Agee February 20th, 2023
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