As a winter storm charged through Central Illinois last week, Stephen Elmore shared a photo on Twitter of an ice- and slush-covered O’Brien Field in Charleston, home of the Eastern Illinois football team.
The conditions certainly impacted Elmore’s duties as a junior long snapper for the Panthers. But the storm also piqued his interest as part of his other major job on campus, as a weather forecaster at WEIU, the university’s campus TV station.
“We take it very seriously,” said Elmore, a graduate of Belleville East High School. “We’re always prepared.”
During a 30-minute newscast each weeknight, Elmore said the weather takes up 5 to 7 minutes.
“I have to spend so much time perfecting my craft for long snapping, and then I head right into the same mindset for WEIU,” he said. “Playing football has really prepared me for WEIU.”
As a freshman with an undecided major at Eastern, Elmore walked into Professor Cameron Craig’s Intro to Weather and Climate class with one goal – to knock out a biology requirement.
“I took it just to get that out of the way,” Elmore said. “I had no idea what I wanted to do. Going to class, I started to realize this was something that I was interested in. At the end of the semester, I told him that I want to take this a little more seriously.”
Craig oversees the broadcast meteorology program at EIU, which has produced nearly 20 television meteorologists. Graduates of the program include his first student, Kevin Jeanes, who works at WXYZ, the ABC affiliate in Detroit, and former Eastern cross country and track and field athlete Caitlin Napoleoni, who works at NBC’s WPTZ in Vermont.
“What’s unique about Eastern Illinois University and WEIU is the fact that we have a facility that does live broadcasts five nights a week,” Craig said. “When our students graduate, they really do know their stuff.”
For Elmore, a year after he expressed his interest to Craig, he was on the air at WEIU.
“It’s pretty neat, and we’re all extremely proud of Stephen,” EIU head football coach Adam Cushing said. “We always say you can come here and be anything you want to be.”
Finding his voice
Though being a TV weather forecaster wasn’t Elmore’s goal when he got to college, working a crowd was something he was familiar with.
Elmore’s father, Phil, is an insurance agent and Belleville alderman who started his own DJ business. Growing up in the St. Louis metro area, Stephen Elmore and his brother, Brock, helped set up for weddings and parties with their father.
“I would always watch him and how he addressed a room or how he introduced a wedding party,” Elmore said.
Eventually, Phil Elmore began to pass the microphone to his sons. Today, Brock has taken over the business, which has clients throughout the St. Louis area.
“My first microphone experience was at a daddy-daughter dance in my hometown,” Stephen Elmore said.
After setting up the equipment for weddings, Stephen often would stick around to watch his father work. “He’d hand me the mic and say, ‘Read these names. Make it sound energetic.’ I was always working on how I speak to crowds,” he said.
That practice at big events gave Elmore an edge when he started on air with WEIU.
“Listening to my dad and my brother prepared me to another level,” he said. “I had an advantage over other new news people and other new weather people.”
After each WEIU newscast, Elmore said his father offers a critique and moral support.
Lights, camera, action
As a long snapper, one mistake can lead to a game-changing play.
“Ever since high school, I’ve always heard that you know the long snapper had a good day if they’re never heard of during the game,” Elmore said.
The same goes for weather forecasting.
Just as he relies on daily repetitions to hone his long snapping, Elmore meticulously plans his forecasts and reviews National Weather Service information before going on air.
“Being accurate on the football field and being accurate on WEIU are very important,” Elmore said. “We’re graded on how accurate our forecasts are. People want to know what their weekend is going to look like or (the weather) for an upcoming holiday.
“With pressure situations, you have to control your mind and stay focused. You want to be confident but not cocky. You need to stay in the mindset that you’ve got a job to do and you have to go out and execute it,” he said.
Elmore’s work has drawn rave reviews from Craig, who said his pupil has a future in broadcast meteorology if he chooses to take that path.
“He’s quick on his feet,” Craig said. “There’s very little preparation when it comes to severe weather. When a warning is issue by the National Weather Service, they need to be on the air as soon as possible to get that information out.”
The impact of weather
Cushing, EIU’s head coach, has had the opportunity to watch Elmore work behind the scenes at WEIU. He sees the same dedication on the football field from his long snapper.
“It’s his preparation,” Cushing said. “He’s one of those guys who’s always working his tail off, and not only on the football field.”
As a young assistant coach early in his career, Cushing learned that weather is never far from the minds of his fellow coaches.
“All the other coaches would sit around and talk about the weather,” he said. “I kept thinking, ‘Why are these guys always talking about the weather?’”
He quickly learned that the forecast for the days and weeks ahead impacted practice schedules and game preparation, so it was valuable information for coaches to know.
Now that he has his own weather forecaster on the team, Cushing often consults with Elmore for his insight.
“We talk about it probably more than he wants to,” Cushing said with a laugh.