Photography by John Ternan
Most people would bristle at the thought of waking up at 3 a.m. for work every weekday. Rachel Schoutsen (BA '13) relishes the opportunity.
As host of the Weather Network’s Toronto morning show, it is a part of the career she loves. “I don’t really look at this as a job,” Schoutsen says during an interview at the Weather Network’s bustling Oakville headquarters. “I look at it as a passion and I love coming here. I always wanted to be a weather personality and always wanted to be on TV. When I really started thinking about it, achieving that goal almost turned into an obsession for me.”
Schoutsen, who grew up in Mississauga, studied journalism at Laurier’s Brantford campus from 2009 to 2013. While a student, she honed her on-air skills as a volunteer at Rogers Brantford, where she gained her first experience working in front of a camera. During her third year of university, she was hired as an intern at the Weather Network, where she has risen to become one of the network’s key on-air personalities.
One of Schoutsen’s first tasks after arriving at the studio in the early morning hours is taking part in a “weather briefing” with a Weather Network meteorologist. The meeting entails discussing the weather forecast for the day ahead, forecast models and potential future weather trends. Following that, Schoutsen builds her show, organizing computer-generated maps prepared by meteorologists in a way that will help tell the stories she will share with viewers.
During the four hours she is live each weekday morning, Schoutsen aims to provide viewers with practical information, including weather stories that will impact their day, what clothing they will need to be prepared for the weather conditions and highlighting community events happening around Ontario. In addition, she reports on traffic in the Toronto area.
“A big challenge of mine is taking weather information and conveying it in a simple way that people will understand,” Schoutsen says. “That’s something I really try to focus in on every morning, and picking out the things that are most important.”
When her workday is done, Schoutsen spends time in the evening thinking about the next day’s forecast, potential weather headlines and feature story ideas for her next show. Keeping on top of the weather in a live television setting can be challenging, Schoutsen says, but for her that is an enjoyable part of the job.
“The best part for me is the challenge,” Schoutsen says. “I love looking at a clock and thinking: ‘I have three minutes and 50 seconds to fill, what’s the most important thing to say? What do I want my audience to know? How can I keep this interesting?’ I love that challenge and find it the most exhilarating part of the day.”
Schoutsen sometimes broadcasts outside of the Weather Network studio as part of an initiative called “Show on the Road,” which takes her to interesting and fun locations throughout Ontario that put a focus on the outdoors. It’s an idea Schoutsen developed, in part because she loves the storytelling aspect of her work.
“When I am on the road and I’m telling a story from a journalistic point of view, I always want to tie in how the weather is affecting people,” she says. “If there’s a huge snowstorm, 45 centimetres on the ground, how is it affecting Bob’s bakery? It’s stories like that I think are the best stories to tell and it’s stories like that I love to cover and hear about.”
Schoutsen says Laurier’s journalism program, a joint program with Conestoga College, prepared her well for her career. “My time at Laurier and Conestoga taught me so much about the basics of journalism and delivering a story,” she says. “It helped me develop the skills required for the job.”
While Schoutsen loves her work, there can be difficult days. She notes that weather-related stories are not always easy to tell and one in particular had a big impact on her. “Fort McMurray in the spring of 2016 was heartbreaking,” she says. “Our morning show focused on Toronto turned into sharing information about the Fort McMurray fire. We were covering that all morning long and it was devastating to see some of the video. People were trying to leave the fire and stuck in traffic jams and flames were literally next to their cars. It was hard to watch that. Imagine that being your own street, imagine that being your own home.”
Being on air every morning has made Schoutsen a familiar face to Weather Network viewers. While many connect with her every day on social media, she is also often recognized when off duty.
“At the gym I’ve been recognized a few times, on the GO train, at the grocery store,” Schoutsen says. “I was with my grandmother one time when I was recognized and I think that was pretty cool for her. I always just thank everybody for watching because TV is not always everybody’s first choice anymore with the rise of the internet. When I know someone is a viewer and I know they’re with us every morning, I don’t take that for granted. I really appreciate it.”
When not performing her duties at the Weather Network, Schoutsen can often be found running. She’s completed seven half-marathons and is currently training for her second full marathon, the Ottawa Marathon, a May event that will help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. “That’s going to be my big way to celebrate Canada this year, running the Ottawa Marathon,” Schoutsen says. “I would say completing a full marathon is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.
“I find that running is good for your body, but it’s better for the mind and such a stress relief. It’s good time for yourself, it’s good time to think and, to be honest, running and weather go hand in hand. I sometimes think I’m better about knowing the forecast because I care so much about the weather for my run. Running has made me pay way more attention to the weather.”
While Schoutsen considers herself lucky to present the weather on television as a career, it is not lost on her that talking about the weather is a favourite pastime of, well, most everyone. That’s especially true in Canada with its ever-changing weather.
“It’s so easy to talk about the weather,” Schoutsen says. “If you’re in an awkward situation you might say: ‘Hey, it’s a nice day out there today.’ And it’s so easy to have an opinion about the weather, too. It’s easy to say bad things about it, to love it, to hate it. It’s an easy conversation and, because our weather changes so much, there’s always something to say.”