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A Change in the Weather

Theresa Pollick is drivers’ roadside reporter

A change in the weather

By Matt Markey

From a very early age, Theresa Pollick was simply infatuated with the weather. She could envision herself as a television meteorologist, braving a howling wind and horizontal snow to face the camera and detail Mother Nature’s nasty side.

“That was my dream, to report on the weather. That’s what I always wanted to do,” said the 1995 Bowling Green State University graduate.

In the historic winter of 2013-14, she had plenty of opportunities to live out that dream, or possibly reconsider it. As the official spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) district office in Bowling Green, Pollick appeared on television, radio or in the newspaper more than 70 times. Road conditions and snow emergencies became the most critical piece of news on many days, and she had to stay out in front of the numerous major weather events.

“My role was magnified this past winter, and it was ongoing, it was nonstop, especially in January,” Pollick said. “There was a lot of constant updating that was necessary. I was getting information from our people and presenting it in a timely manner. This winter certainly presented its own set of challenges, a lot of challenges.”

Pollick was likely as prepared as any individual could be to handle those challenges as a seemingly endless line of winter storms battered the region for the better part of 10 weeks. A record snowfall of more than eight feet, 25 days with temperatures at or below zero, and biting winds that produced chill factors as low as minus 45 – those do not comprise the recipe for good driving conditions.

“When you hear that bad weather is coming, I think you are always prepared, but you can’t tell how bad it is until after it’s here,” she said. As a public information officer, “You have to get out in it, see how difficult things are, and then communicate that in an honest fashion. I felt like I was ready for that.”

It was many years earlier that the Columbus native started laying the foundation for her role as the face of ODOT in its most difficult hours. After making several college visits, Pollick found the opportunities she was looking for at BGSU.

“For some reason, I just fell in love with Bowling Green. They were starting up BG24 at the time, and I was really excited about it,” Pollick said about the student organization committed to providing the campus and community with breaking news while also supplying University students with a hands-on news experience.

“I loved it there because when I wanted them to do a weather program so badly that I said, ‘Will you please let me do this?’ —they let me.”

Pollick originally started her education on a telecommunications path, but altered her approach to be better prepared for the career she was targeting.

“I became a geography major because I wanted to get into meteorology eventually,” she said. “With that in mind, I knew I needed to get more of scientific background.”

Since Bowling Green did not offer a meteorology major, Pollick picked up the additional courses she needed through correspondence classes and earned a certificate in broadcast meteorology.

With experience gained at WBGU, Pollick worked for a television station in Findlay for a while and did weather reporting for an outlet in Lima before catching on with NBC 24 in Toledo for a year.

She then landed a job in promotions with Buckeye CableSystem, and after five years in that role she went to work for Channel 13 in Toledo, covering weekend shifts and gaining more weather reporting experience, along with the coveted American Meteorological Society seal.

After getting married and starting a family, Pollick heard about the public relations position at ODOT opening up, but she was hesitant to change jobs at that point.

When the ODOT post opened up again a year later, the timing was better.

“With the additional experience I had gained in promotions and knowing what I did about the media, and having some familiarity with transportation from doing ODOT-related stories, it seemed like a pretty good fit,” Pollick said.

She started at ODOT in September of 2007, and quickly found out that the intricate details of the operation could be a little tough to digest.

“I was blown away by the amount of stuff I had to learn, and continue to learn, about how ODOT and how government works,” she said. “There is so much involved with how projects run, how construction projects are developed and designed, and with all of the details, there is so much that it can be overwhelming.”

Massive projects such as bridge constructions, highway bypasses and major repaving jobs can take years to plan and execute. Pollick has to keep the taxpaying public informed throughout these efforts and explain the pace of progress.

“After six years, I think I have an idea now of how this all works,” she said. “But as one of our planning engineers who had been here for 40-plus years said, ‘You will never know everything there is to know about how this works.’”

Pollick said that throughout the extremely difficult recent winter, she sought to stay consistent and keep the message direct.

“I was used to media, and that part wasn’t a problem, so each time we had a weather issue it was so important to be able to relate to the community that this is what is going on,” she said. “You have to be truthful, and it is important to be as realistic as possible. You have to let them know that there’s no magic wand to take care of it.”

Pollick said she developed an increasing respect for the way the ODOT road crews approached their role in battling winter’s wrath. As the snow continued to pile up and the ice and wind were its constant companions, the agency persevered.

“Towards the end of winter, I had to manage the media because they were coming to me for everything,” she said. “But I refused to make light of it, because these were serious matters and you don’t want to sacrifice your credibility. At the same time, you don’t want to over-hype a situation, but that’s an area where having my meteorology background helped a lot.”

Before the last piles of plowed snow had melted away, Pollick had already transitioned into the ultra-busy construction season, with the major refurbishing of the Anthony Wayne Bridge in Toledo at the top of the list. As the ODOT office’s one voice on all topics, Pollick continues to be the face of the department, a role she is increasingly comfortable filling.

“I think going to BG gave me the confidence to do what I do now,” she said. “The support of that lifelong network of friends I have from my college days is so important. There is no fear of moving forward.”

That combination of support and self-confidence has served her well and allowed her to take on the fast-paced complexity of the ODOT position.

“I think what appealed to me about this job was just the change of pace, and the different challenges it presented,” she said. “It had a strong weather connection, plus the public relations component. And I have always enjoyed talking to people.”

The winter of 2013-14 tested Pollick and her fellow ODOT employees, but she expects the experience to benefit them all.

“With everything we do, safety is obviously the number one priority, and that point was reinforced over and over,” she said. “Ice and snow, take it slow – that was my number one quote from this past winter, and probably for the rest of my life.”