PHILADELPHIA >> Phoenixville native Kate Bilo likes to say she came into weather forecasting through the back door.
Bilo’s name should be familiar to anyone who’s caught an afternoon weather forecast on Philadelphia’s CBS 3 Eyewitness News or KYW News Radio. She is a meteorologist for the station, delivering the noon, 5 and 6 p.m. television forecasts.
And while Bilo says she has always been a weather geek at heart, she never imagined she’d be delivering weather predictions in the nation’s fourth-largest television market, the very same area in which she grew up. In fact, meteorology wasn’t even the career path she first embarked on.
She initially took up a broadcast journalism major at Penn State, with a goal of becoming an anchor or reporter, something she said she still enjoys. But when that didn’t feel like the right fit, she fell back on a subject her favorite teacher, Dr. Nick Iuliano, had helped her fall in love with at Phoenixville Area High School — Spanish.
What followed, according to Bilo, was a domino effect. While applying to graduate schools after receiving degrees in Spanish and international business in 2003, Bilo took a job as an administrative assistant with AccuWeather, headquartered in State College. On her first day she discovered they had been “looking forever” for someone to deliver Spanish-language forecasts, so she volunteered to be trained in forecasting, combining her two academic loves, Spanish and the weather.
“They started training me the next day, and I was hooked immediately,” Bilo told The Phoenix Reporter & Item in a recent interview. “I thought, ‘This is what I should have been doing all along. I love the weather. Why didn’t I think about this and major in meteorology at Penn State?’”
And so AccuWeather paid for further schooling that led to a geosciences degree from Mississippi State.
“They say the thing you’re supposed to be doing will find you if you don’t find it first, and it kind of found me,” she said.
“And I think my dad wishes it would have found me four years sooner, before he paid for a different degree from Penn State,” she added with a laugh, “but, you know, it all worked out in the end.”
While many residents may not know she’s from the Phoenixville area, a lot of old friends and acquaintances did recognize her when she became a Greater Philadelphia television personality. Having grown up in a small, tight-knit high school class of 229, Bilo said there was always a lot of support amongst her classmates. And so, when she took the job four and a half years ago and set up her social media accounts, she received a lot of congratulations and support from former classmates.
And, of course, her position has led to friends and family trying to get the inside scoop on the weather, which Kate is happy to provide. Even while on her family’s annual vacation to the shore, her father will sometimes ask what the week is looking like.
Her family is important to her, especially now that she has two young sons at home. And striking the work-family balance can be tough for a meteorologist.
“There are days during snow storms when I’m here or at a hotel or just not home for two, maybe even two and a half, three days at a stretch, kind of just come home, change my clothes and say hi to my kids, and it’s hard,” she said. “But I think they understand, especially as they get older.”
And she finds ways to make time for them — they make the most of every weekend, and she makes sure she gets home in time to see them before bed and tuck them in.
But she wouldn’t change it for the world, she says, because she believes that being fulfilled in her professional life makes her a happier person and a better mom.
“And I want them to grow up, especially having two boys, I want them to grow up seeing female role models in high-powered positions and saying women can do everything men can do,” Bilo said. “My mom did this and did that and also came home every night and made dinner for us and tucked us into bed. … And this is my way of doing it.”
In what little free time she gets between work and being a mom, Bilo can usually be found reading. In fact, she says she never falls asleep without a book in her hand. She reads a wide variety of things, everything from Nabokov to the Harry Potter series, which she finished up last fall after being on the fence about reading what she thought were children’s books. The series has quickly become one of her favorites. Her son even dressed as Harry Potter for Halloween and she took him to the Harry Potter festival in Chestnut Hill in the fall, sporting her own witches hat for the experience.
When not reading or predicting the weather, she can also be found making predictions about football at her alma mater. For the record, she thinks the hard work new head coach James Franklin has put into his approach and recruiting, combined with the hard work of the Nittany Lions on the field, will help the team rebuild fast and expects good things in a few short years.
At work, a typical day starts off fast for Bilo, who begins preparing for the noon forecast right away. After the noon broadcast, she has a couple of hours to kill before the models start coming in again around 2 p.m. in which she can keep up with her social media presence, record sound bites, and do the multitude of other tasks many people don’t associate with meteorologists. Then it’s back to the prognostication grind, giving reports for the drive home for KYW listeners at 3, 3:30, 4 and 4:30 and then prepping for the 5 and 6 p.m. forecasts.
But the tough-as-nails experience of what she calls “weather boot camp” at AccuWeather, and her mentor there, Bernie Rayno, prepared her for it.
“[You] get hired out of college, don’t get paid a whole lot, you have to work every weekend, you have to work long hours,” she said. “But you’re also working with 100 brilliant meteorologists who do this day in and day out. The forecasters there work six-day weeks every week. They work hard, they know their stuff. And to have six years in that kind of environment, with just all these brilliant minds teaching me how to do things — I would say you can get out of any experience what you’re willing to put into it.”
From the get-go, she didn’t want to be someone who just read the National Weather Service predictions on camera. That’s one reason why CBS Philly was the perfect fit for her. The station puts together all its own weather forecasts, so it provided the environment she was looking for to continue honing her skills.
Her love of the weather began as a kid.
“I kind of trace that back to the blizzard of ’93, the blizzard of ’96, being out with my dad with a yard stick and I would take hourly measurements on my little spreadsheet,” she said. “I was a nerd.”
She’s thankful to her parents for encouraging her interests and always supporting her growing up. She’s especially thankful to her mom, who died just over five years ago at age 55 from lung cancer, for pushing her to move back closer to home and work in such a large market.
“When I was working at AccuWeather she used to say to me, ‘Why don’t you just get a job in Philadelphia? You can work the morning shift and we can go golf in the afternoon.’ And I would say to her, ‘You know, Mom, that’s my dream. I would love to do that. But Philadelphia’s market number four, jobs don’t come available very often. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that.’”
So when her mom got sick shortly after Kate became pregnant with her son, Kate put the job on hold to return to Phoenixville to be with her mom.
“To me it was the best nine months and also the worst nine months of my life. Because I got to spend every afternoon having tea with her and listening to her stories and just talking to her about the baby and she was there through my whole pregnancy,” Bilo said. “She passed when my son was two weeks old. It was the hardest period of my life and hopefully the hardest thing I’ll ever have to endure in my life.”
A year later, Kate got the job in Philadelphia working mornings, exactly like her mom had wanted.
And while she may have never been able to imagine herself in her current position forecasting in a top-five market, her late mother certainly did.