Hidden History: June Bacon-Bercey, a pioneer for women in Meteorology

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – June Bacon-Bercy had a dream that became a legacy – all stirred up by the Kansas wind.

Bacon-Bercy paved an uncharted path for women of color in meteorology when she became the first African American woman to work as an on-air meteorologist.

“She always loved the atmosphere. We grew up with weather balloons,” said her daughter, Dail St. Claire.

Bacon-Bercy grew up in Wichita and graduated from Friends University. She earned her master’s degree at UCLA, and then moved to Buffalo, N.Y. to become an on-air reporter for a television news station. She worked as a journalist, but when the weather forecaster at her station was arrested for robbing a bank, Bacon-Bercy agreed to take the meteorologist job.

“From her perspective, she had the skills and the clear path from an intellectual curiosity to pursue a path that had not been paved before,” St. Claire said.

Bacon-Bercy would go on to become the first woman and African American to be awarded the American Meteorological Society Seal of Approval for Excellence in Television Weathercasting. Her career included working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and the Nation Weather Service – all at a time when men greatly outweiged women in scientific fields.

“She faced I think more issues with her gender than race,” St. Claire said. “My mom was always about definitions. When she was called a weather girl she would smile and say how proud she was to be a meteorologist, or something in the context that would incorporate exactly who she was, utilizing the word meteorologist.”

Bacon-Bercy focused on advancing the science of meteorology, particularly with women. That’s what drew her to a network game show, winning $64,000. She used that money to advance her vision of starting a scholarship for women in meteorology.

Bacon-Bercy died in the summer of 2019 at the age of 85. Her family is working to restore the scholarship she started to encourage meteorological careers for women.