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Putting the forecast in the palm of a (small) hand

Former Baltimore TV meteorologist and son design a weather app for kids

By Candy Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

1:30 PM EST, December 15, 2012

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Growing up in and around New York City, where the weather can be as fickle as a Yankee fan, Justin Berk was bitten by the forecasting bug.

After earning his degree in meteorology from Cornell University, Berk did a five-year stint at WBAL-TV before joining WMAR-TV in 2003. Last January — on Friday the 13th — contract talks bogged down and Berk and WMAR parted ways.

The weatherman became his own boss at Just In Weather LLC. His first co-worker? Son Brendan, a first-grader. Their inaugural collaboration is Kid Weather App, which was designed at their home in the northern Baltimore suburbs. It is being sold by Apple and Google Play for $1.99.

Brendan, how did you come up with the idea for Kid Weather App? And Justin, did you get it right away?

Brendan: My dad was in the kitchen one morning talking to my mom about a few apps he wanted to make. I said I had an idea for a weather app for kids. It would give the current weather and a forecast that would help them know how to get dressed. It would also have some fun games and cool things like he tells me sometimes. My dad told me to draw it out, and I did right away. He still has it.

Justin: I really liked it. But I like a lot of things he comes up with. He has a great imagination that my wife and I encourage. To be honest, I had my dream of what I wanted to develop first. It was after a few months and a few chats that I realized Brendan had something special. There are countless weather apps, but how many are for kids that actually teach something? I figured the story of an app by a kid, for kids, would be a big hit.

Did your dad discuss the app with you while it was being designed? What advice did you give him?

Brendan: He showed me a lot of things. We started with getting the kids looking right. First they were too tall. Then they looked too young. But we got them just right. My dad thinks the boy looks like me. I'm not sure. We plan to add more kids and animals. I helped with the animals, the colors, and then we had to get the clothes right. We could not put everything I wanted in our first version. But I like the way it came out. I made sure that kids could change the weather on their own. I wanted to have something to play with when the weather was boring. Most of the trivia my dad did. But he asked me what I liked. My favorite is raining frogs.

What was the hardest part of getting it right?

Justin: Oh, nothing is ever perfect. There are a lot of ideas we want to include that we just have to wait on. The biggest issue has been time. We had aimed to release this in September but ended up with November. Even then, that was just the iTunes version. The Android version was delayed a few more weeks and part of it had to be rebuilt. This entire thing has been a learning process, for sure. But we have a lot more to look forward to. We are just getting started.

What age group did you shoot for? What features did it have to have?

Justin: I wanted the app to fit toddlers to preteens. The younger kids love to interact and see the bright colors. Reading the trivia and being able to search weather across the country will appeal to the older kids. It is a real weather app, with short- and long-range forecasts. Viewed during the day, it shows a six-hour outlook and the projected high temperature for the next day. At night, the focus is on the bus stop weather on the way to and from school and includes getting the avatars dressed. To make it interactive, the app has a feature called "Wear?" so kids and parents can change the temperature or sky condition to see how the avatars would dress. To ensure it's educational, the app has all kinds of trivia — more than 400 items — ranging from information about clouds, rainbows and severe storms, to records, folklore and nursery rhymes with weather lyrics. Finally, it allows a kid to plot the weather on a graph to follow over a week and a month.

How do you think it turned out?

Brendan: I love it. I use it every day and we talk about things in the trivia. I hope other kids and their parents can sit down every day to see how they should dress for school and learn something new.

Justin: I think it turned out very well. Of course, there are a few upgrades and additions planned, so we have a lot to look forward to. We've had a great response from people we know and from across the country as well. We just want to get it in the hands of more kids and teachers. I am proud that I was able to take my son's idea and bring it to life.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

Justin Berk

Age: 39

Academic credentials: Cornell University, bachelor's degree in meteorology

Career: Meteorologist at TV and radio stations in upstate New York; WPHL-TV in Philadelphia; WBAL-TV and WMAR-TV in Baltimore

Other interests: Teaches at Stevenson University; serves on board of the Cool Kids Campaign, which helps youngsters with cancer

Brendan Berk

Age: 6

Academic credentials: Active first-grader

Hobbies: Science, weather and building things; snow sports and swimming.

Career goals: Make more apps or maybe a computer. But maybe I'll change my mind.