Interview: Ginger Zee on Her New Book ‘Chasing Helicity’

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CHICAGO – Ginger Zee is more than a popular meteorologist who comes into homes during the A.M. on “Good Morning America.” She is also an advocate in her pursuit of weather reporting and a newly minted writer of fiction. She combined both for middle school readers, in her new book “Chasing Helicity.”

Ms. Zee was born in California, but grew up in Michigan. Her fascination with weather events started as a child, when she saw a waterspout on Lake Michigan. She got her bachelors degree in Meteorology from Valparaiso University, began her weather reporting career in Flint, Michigan, and eventually landed on the local news in Chicago in 2006. In 2011, she got the call to the big leagues, when ABC-TV hired her for “Good Morning America Weekend,” and in 2013 named her Chief Meteorologist. Her highest profile in that position is on the daily “Good Morning America,” where she is part of the daybreak crew on that show.

Meteorologist Ginger Zee in Chicagoland for ‘Chasing Helicity’
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for

Ginger Zee’s new book is the middle school novel “Chasing Helicity,” a semi-autobiography about a young girl who has an affinity for weather events, and the plot is used it as a background for encouraging science study for girls. She recently appeared in Chicagoland at an event sponsored by Anderson’s Bookshop of Naperville, Ill. For the Slideshow of that event, click here. also reached out to Ginger Zee in a series of interview questions, which she answered via email. Your new book, ‘Chasing Helicity,’ could be characterized as semi auto biographical, given that your interest in weather began in your childhood. What is most similar about your title character to your persona, and where does Helicity split from who you are?

Ginger Zee: The character of Helicity and I share a passion for understanding the atmosphere and extreme weather. Because this is hyper reality, Helicity gets to experience the literal storms and life’s storms earlier and more concentrated than I did, and she learns the life lessons faster too. It’s the evolution of me in a much shorter period of time. Your book is also tied to STEM issues [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] for girls and inspiring them to maintain interest in these fields of studiy. What encourages you about the current generation of girls as they approach their education in these areas?

Zee: We are talking about it! The acronym of STEM exists to support and encourage it. These girls have an even greater platform and so much more support than generations past, and I hope that encouragement propels them into the sciences. You wrote ‘Chasing Helicity’ for a middle school reader. What books in your youth were influential as you were approaching your writing, and what limits as far as content do you have to consider when writing for this particular audience?

Zee: The main lesson I learned was limiting the darkness of where the story could go. In my experiences covering storms, it does get really dark…so it is natural for me to want to go to reality or even hyper-reality. That’s what I remember from the initial R.L. Stine books [“Goosebumps” series] that made me want to be a writer, when I read them in middle school – I loved how dark and twisted they got. Another one of my favorite stories was Lois Duncan’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Oddly, I don’t like thriller/horror now, but back then, I loved the drama. So I think of that as part of the story for my younger audience. You are a Chief Meteorologist at ABC-TV. In your journey to that lofty position, what has been maintained in your basic love and study of weather, that you hope comes through in your reporting on a daily basis?

Zee: No matter what I am covering, I try to add something from my scientific expertise… it’s an effort to remind folks that there is so much more to learn about the atmosphere and environment around them. That is a huge reason why even naming the character Helicity – which is my favorite forecasting variable [tornado formation] – was so important to me. I want there to be blatant and hidden science lessons throughout everything I do.

Author Ginger Zee and Her Latest Book, ‘Chasing Helicity’
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for We currently have a presidential administration that is vocal about not making climate change a priority. From your seat as a climate expert, what can we keep losing in our environment if measures are not taken against climate change?

Zee: I would never consider myself as a climate expert, as my education was in forecasting the weather in short term. That said, I have had the opportunity to study our atmosphere, boundary layer meteorology, and I have been the “green” reporter at several TV stations. I can tell you that there is no doubt on a micro scale we have impacted our weather.

Think about the difference of a thunderstorm feeding off the moisture and cooler conditions of natural grasses versus the asphalt of several developments and store parking lots. You change the surface, you inevitably change the fuel for a thunderstorm. If it changes things on a micro scale that all has to add up. Also, at the end of the day we are often fighting over the rights to clean air and water. I challenge you to find someone who doesn’t think that clean air and water is important. It must be. We must make it a priority. Congrats on your second child! You were in the news for responding to social media criticism on both body image and maternity leave. What is stressful to you regarding our current level of discourse on social media, and what motivates you to respond?

Zee: I try to respond to everyone, and that’s not always easy. But I feel responsible to converse even with those who might not be complimentary. Often the attacks I get are coming from people who intend to hurt, and are looking for interaction and attention. I like to remind them that there is a human at the other end of the keyboard, and hopefully protect others going forward. Finally, your first book, the memoir ‘Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I am One,’ you opened up about your battles with depression and the effects of such on your early relationships. Now that you are presumably past some of the obstacles that caused these circumstances, what advice would you give to your younger self to bring her to a more balanced sense of being?

Zee: Being honest with myself was the thing that changed it all for me. There were so many times I should have gone to get real help with my depression, but I ignored it or swept it under the rug. It wasn’t until I said it out loud, told my closest family that I needed help, and actually was open to seeking serious hospitalization did I get better.

As part of saying it out loud, my memoir has been the ultimate healing process for me, because I’m saying it out loud to everyone, even strangers, and I’m forced to be okay with the reactions to it, either positive and negative. As a result, I feel the healthiest I ever have because of that honesty with myself. I finally respect and love myself enough to live life full of joy. I would remind myself In those dark times – if I could go back – that the clouds don’t last forever, they can’t and they won’t. That’s not how the atmosphere or life works.

”Chasing Helicity” by Ginger Zee is available at Anderson’s Bookshop and wherever books are sold. For more information about Ginger Zee, click here. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2018 Patrick McDonald,

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