Justin Berk has gained a considerable following during his more than a decade as a meteorologist in the Baltimore region.
That following has grown in recent years, as Berk quickly learned how to reach out to an ever-expanding audience via social media. It was the desire to explore social- media opportunities more that eventually led Berk to walk away last January from WMAR-TV, where he had forecasted since 2003.
“The face of media is changing,” Berk said. “Those in old media are now adjusting to how to best utilize new media at a time when people expect their news and weather instantaneously, many through their smartphones.”
Berk said he spent the first part of last year working out a plan on how to move his career forward. This included working on the schematics for several smartphone apps.
However, the idea he eventually moved forward with didn’t come from him; it came from his 6-year-old son, Brendan, who suggested a weather app designed specifically for kids. This led to the recent release of the Kid Weather App.
“I had some idea of what I wanted to do with an app, but I realized that Brendan [was] onto something special,” Berk said. “I come from a family of educators, and it was important to me that I develop something that people could learn from. A weather app for kids, designed by kids — I think accomplished just that.”
Berk said the app has something to offer children from toddlers to preteens. Along with weather for local communities, the app also features trivia, safety tips, temperature graphing and a Fahrenheit-to-Celsius calculator. There are also several avatars people can choose, and users can “dress” them based on the weather.
“Weather is something that interests people of all ages,” Berk said. “I’ve found more and more kids are getting their weather from some kind of mobile device anyway. This helps make it fun and educational at the same time. Science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] are such an integral part of a child’s education today. The app offers parents and even teachers a new interactive platform to engage children in those subjects.”
The Kid Weather App became available for iPhone in November and for Android last month. Berk said he already has had several thousands of people pay $1.99 to download it. Those who have purchased it have come from across the country with several dozen more coming from as far away as Australia, despite the app not yet having international forecasting abilities.
Gina Miller was one of the first to download it. The Woodbine mother of two, a 10-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, said she first put it on her phone because her daughter would ask her every day what the weather would be during recess.
“My kids love it,” Miller said. “This app appeals to kids of all ages. It teaches them about weather in a practical, hands-on way that is age appropriate without ‘dumbing down.’”
Sherri Sibel Thomas also downloaded the app. The Sparks mother said her daughters, 9 and 12, had never taken an interest in the weather until now.
“It’s truly an exciting application for children of all ages,” Sibel Thomas said.
Berk said Miller and Sibel Thomas learned of the app, like most who have purchased it, via social media. Most of Berk’s marketing is done on Facebook, where he has more than 23,000 followers. More than half of those started to follow Berk after he left WMAR.
“This huge following really opened my eyes to the impact of social media,” Berk said. “I get instant feedback on everything from the weather forecast to what people do and don’t like about the app. The key moving forward is learning how to best leverage that audience.”
Berk said developing the app has been an amazing learning experience. It is the centerpiece of his company, Just In Weather LLC, which also has Berk offering metrological consulting work for several businesses. Berk, a 1995 Cornell graduate, also continues to teach meteorology classes at Stevenson University.
“The response has been tremendous,” Berk said. “What has made this even more special is that I got to go on this journey with my son.”
Berk added that the lesson he taught Brendan through this process went far beyond the weather.
“Getting this app off the ground was not an easy process,” Berk said. “We had to adjust along the way and had to hold off including certain features on the app. There were also issues ensuring it worked for both iPhone and Android devices. All of these delays taught Brendan the value of patience and that hard work does pay off in the end.”