June Bacon-Bercey, who by many accounts became the first African-American woman to deliver the weather on television as a trained meteorologist, died on July 3 at a care facility in Burlingame, Calif., her family announced recently. She was 90.
Her daughter Dail St. Claire said the cause was frontotemporal dementia.
Ms. Bacon-Bercey had worked as a meteorologist at WRC-TV in Washington — though without delivering weather forecasts on the air — when she was hired in 1971 to be a reporter for an NBC affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y., WGR-TV (today WGRZ).
She became an on-air meteorologist a year later, after the station’s weather anchor was arrested and charged with robbing a bank to pay off gambling debts.
“All hell broke loose at the station when our weather guy robbed the bank, and they needed someone who was there to fill in for the day,” Ms. Bacon-Bercey was quoted as saying by The San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “I already knew from my calculations that there was going to be a heat wave. When the heat wave hit the next day, the job was mine.”
Other black women, among them Dianne White Clatto and Trudy Haynes, had delivered weather reports on television almost a decade before Ms. Bacon-Bercey did. But she was the first black woman to do so who was also a trained meteorologist, according to various sources, including the weather forecasting and news company AccuWeather, which profiled her in 2019, and Physics Today, a magazine published by the American Institute of Physics.
Bryan Busby, the longtime chief meteorologist for the television stations KMBC and KCWE in Kansas City, Mo. (he is also African-American), said in a phone interview that “whether she was the first or not, she was one of the major African-American pioneers on television, irrespective of gender.”
In 1972, the American Meteorological Society awarded Ms. Bacon-Bercey its Seal of Approval, given for excellence in on-air meteorology. She was the first African-American and the first woman to receive that honor.
A year later, she left WGR to become a public speaker. She later worked for the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
She also endowed a scholarship through the American Geophysical Union for women to study atmospheric sciences, drawing on her $64,000 in winnings earned in 1977 on the game show “The $128,000 Question.” She had successfully answered a string of questions about the composer John Philip Sousa.
A dozen women received money for tuition through the scholarship from 1978 to 1990. Ms. St. Claire said she hoped to re-establish the scholarship in her mother’s name, a provision of her will.
Dorothy Tucker, the president of the National Association of Black Journalists and an investigative reporter for CBS News in Chicago, wrote in an email that “June Bacon-Bercey was the personification of the word trailblazer” and that she had “opened doors for not just people of color but women in meteorology and broadcast.”
June Esther Griffin was born on Oct. 23, 1928, in Wichita, Kan. Her father died when she was young, and her mother remarried and moved to Florida. She was mostly raised by an aunt and uncle, Edgar and Bessie Holbrook.
June Griffin studied math at Friends University in Wichita before earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in meteorology from the University of California, Los Angeles, in the mid-1950s.
In 1977 she told The Baltimore Sun that some of her instructors had not taken her interest in science seriously because of her gender.
“When I chose my major, my adviser, who is still at U.C.L.A., advised me to go into home economics,” she said. “I got a D in home economics and an A in thermodynamics.”
After graduating, she worked at the National Meteorological Center in Washington and then for the Atomic Energy Commission and the Sperry Rand Corporation. In 1979 she earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California’s journalism school.
Ms. Bacon-Bercey’s marriages, to Walker Bacon Jr., John Bercey and George Brewer, ended in divorce. In addition to Ms. St. Claire, she is survived by another daughter, Dawn-Marie Bacon, and two grandchildren.
In a study for the American Meteorological Society in 1978, Ms. Bacon-Bercey found a dearth of African-American meteorologists in federal agencies.
“Too many young blacks believe that the field of meteorology is not open to them; still others are not even aware that the field exists,” she wrote. She added, “Society, too, has a moral obligation to put aside the past myths about black Americans not only in the meteorological field but in all of the technical fields.”