Meteorologist Justin Berk has a passion for weather, and that’s something that he has definitely passed on to his six-year-old son Brendan.
Together, the two of them have created the Kid Weather App, a new app that allows kids and parents to access real time weather conditions and forecasts, plot the daily weather on a graph, read up on weather trivia, and then figure out how to dress for school the next day.
“Kids are sponges. They are thirsty for knowledge. The Kid Weather App is like learning by accident. They’re learning, but in a way that’s important to them,” said Berk. “They want to know ‘can I ride my bike tomorrow?’ or ‘can I make a snowman?’”
The Kid Weather App, which is available for both Apple and Android products, launched in November 2012. Within two weeks, Apple selected the Kid Weather App for its “New and Noteworthy” list. Recently, the app was featured on the “What’s Hot” for the iPad list.
“I can’t tell you how great it has been to do this, but it is just the beginning of a lineup of apps and education which I plan to be the cornerstone of my business and career. So far in the first two months we have had a wonderful response,” said Berk, who is the president/owner of Just In Weather, LLC.
The former television forecaster who was on local news for nearly 20 years and spent the last 14 years in Baltimore, just celebrated his one year anniversary of being off the air. Berk left WMAR last January 13 when he and the station parted ways after not being able to come to an agreement.
But Berk is moving forward, and his social media presence has skyrocketed in the past 12 months. When he left the station, he had 5,300 Facebook followers, and today he has more than 25,000.
“I do believe the future of weather is interactive,” said Berk, who does not discount going back to television given the right opportunity. “I see the need for television, but a lot less people are watching on a regular basis. How do you leverage that?”
“Brendan came to me with the idea for the Kid Weather App. I told him to write it down or draw it out on a piece of paper, and he did,” said Berk. After waiting a couple of months and working on other projects, “it hit me. My son had the right combination.”
“He has always been into the latest technology because his dad is. He learned how to use technology at about 3 or 4. He also learned to use the radar on the iPad,” said Berk, who lives with his family in southern Pennsylvania.
“As intuitive as he was, he is still a boy. He used to be incredibly scared of storms. It comforted him to look at the radar with me and track the storm. I could show him that the worst part of the storm wouldn’t be close to us, and that would ease his mind,” he said.
The Kid Weather App was several months in the making, which taught Brendan a lot about patience. He had input every step of the way, including helping to select the appearance of the app characters. It was his idea to add graphs to have a place to plot the weather. According to Berk, the app utilizes the basic elements of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math, which are essential for today’s students.
“I encourage kids to have fun with weather. It would be really cool if other kids could sit with their parents and learn about the weather,” said Berk.
One of Berk’s programs that he started while on air and continues today is the “Wind for Change” program, an education outreach program that includes a fundraising component for the Cool Kids Campaign, which benefits pediatric oncology patients.
Berk visits classrooms to teach kids about weather through interactive demonstrations, videos, pictures and fun activities. There is also a contest measuring how hard kids can blow the wind into a hand held anemometer. People can sponsor the children, with the donations going to Cool Kids. After two years, “Wind for Change” has raised close to $50,000 for the organization.
Berk also does consulting work for clients who depend on the weather for their business, such as snow removal and landscaping companies and ski resorts. He has recently been working on a pilot program for Ski Liberty, Roundtop and Whitetail where he visits the resorts and talks about the snow conditions in the mountains.
“People could be in Baltimore, and it’s brown, but people don’t realize that an hour away there is still snow on the ground,” said Berk. Unlike most meteorologists, he asks his Facebook followers to grade his performance on forecasts and welcomes feedback. “While weather forecasting has come a long way, there are still some things that we can’t see,” he said.
Berk’s ultimate goal is to get more kids interested in the weather with his new app, which is gaining international popularity. The Kid Weather App has had more than 200 downloads in Australia alone.
“It’s so meaningful to me that half a world away, kids who are the same age have an interest in the very same thing,” said Berk. “Weather is a universal element for kids.”