116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
KCRG weatherman Kaj O’Mara signs off after 16 years
Lifelong weather chaser to pursue forensic meteorology
CEDAR RAPIDS — For the last 16 years, KCRG morning meteorologist Kaj O’Mara has been entranced by much of the same phenomena that drew him into meteorology as a child.
Growing up atop a large hill in rural Iowa City, meteorology first caught his attention in the days where he’d watch storms roll in. But Channel 9’s live helicopter coverage of an EF3 tornado sealed his interest in May 1998.
“You could see it from the air, looking down at Washington (Iowa) just getting torn up,” O’Mara recalled as a seventh-grader. “I’m just glued there going ‘I have to do something with weather.’ That was the singular event that kicked me.”
Now 38, O’Mara has spent the entirety of his career since graduating from Iowa State University in 2007 watching the weather from a different set of screens in KCRG’s downtown Cedar Rapids studio.
Where’s he going?
On Monday, O’Mara will start working in forensic meteorology at a global consulting firm. Saddened viewers can partly blame his departure on the derecho of 2020.
After watching his Cedar Rapids neighbors deal with insurance claim difficulties stemming from the derecho, O’Mara became a certified consultant and started Cedar Valley Weather LLC. He has since worked for insurance companies, homeowners and businesses looking to prove weather patterns to substantiate their claims or prepare for the future.
“After the derecho, some people threw rocks at their house, claiming hail broke their windows,” he said of one example.
But there was no hail during the derecho, which led to insurance fraud charges.
One lawsuit against a gas station claimed negligence when a woman slipped on what she thought was ice. As it turns out, she slipped on a plastic paint marker that was just wet from fresh snow.
Another business owner with large parking lots wanted to know how much to budget for snow removal. Using historical data, O’Mara was able to give him best and worst case scenarios.
O’Mara hoped the business would eventually grow enough to take place of his full-time job, where getting up at 2 a.m. has taken a physical toll over the years. The schedule has become more difficult to balance with a family, and an opportunity from an unannounced firm expedited the move.
At his new job, O’Mara will reconstruct weather models to help investigate traffic accidents, crime scenes, building damage, and anything the weather is necessary to determine. The pressure will be high to reconstruct data nearly perfectly, he said.
“But if you tell them what the weather was to the best of your ability with complete and total honesty, which is what I’ve got, then it is what it is,” O’Mara said — something he’s been doing his entire career.
Highlights of his career
In June 2008, on the day O’Mara took his exam to become a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist, Fox News’ Shepard Smith appeared on a nearby TV showing the CRANDIC bridge collapsing into the flooded Cedar River. One of his test questions asked him to define a “one in a thousand year flood.”
“I can do that,” O’Mara said. “We were on the air 96 hours straight leading up to the crest.”
The meteorologist didn’t always aim to be a TV weatherman. But with a tough job market for 2007 college graduates, National Weather Service jobs were almost impossible to get.
“I didn’t think I could beat those odds,” he said.
In his time, he said he’s probably seen more than a meteorologist’s fair share of natural disasters — the EF5 tornado that devastated Parkersburg in 2008, flash floods, dam breaches, blizzards and epic droughts.
They’ve shaped his approach to the weather by reinforcing his respect for smaller scale weather events, where he learned to never say “only” when describing events like an EF1 tornado.
“It may be low on the scale, but to the person who got their roof ripped off, that’s the worst day they had,” he said.
O’Mara is most proud of the CityCAM weather camera network he built from the ground up at KCRG — now the largest in Iowa and one of the largest in the Midwest with 28 cameras from Dubuque to Sigourney.
He’ll most miss his visits to schools — more than 500 in total — where he aimed to be the class speaker he didn’t have as a kid.
Behind the scenes
Before Eastern Iowa started tuning in to the 4:30 a.m. weekday broadcasts, O’Mara had been up for hours studying weather systems and recording rapid-fire forecast briefs for 16 radio stations. He synthesized anything one would need to know about the weather in 20-second briefs.
“It’s muscle memory,” he said during one of his last days.
Unlike his news anchor colleagues, all of his on-the-air presentations were delivered off the cuff — the only scripts he wrote were for closed captioning. Constantly rotating between the green screen, the seated area with a coffee table and the working weather studio, the teleprompter underneath each camera got to take a break when O’Mara was up.
With thousands of online and on-air followers, the connection he fostered through the screen was almost tangible. KCRG’s morning show producers said that’s no easy feat on the weekday morning newscast, which is described as one of the most difficult.
“Kaj has set the standard so freaking high,” said Elisabeth Neruda, morning show producer. “You’re a big part of people’s day. That’s a big responsibility.”
With O’Mara, what you saw was what you got — on and off camera.
“Kaj is truly someone who is the same in person as he is on TV,” said producer Caitlin Harbach. “I think what’s kept audiences following him is not only his great knowledge of the weather but also how he carries himself. He’s kind, he’s humble and he’s levelheaded.”
The seasoned personality knew how to vamp when the producers needed it — even at the risk of being “Kaj-jacked,” a KCRG phenomenon that rhymes with “hijacked.” If any special weather was happening, producers knew to plan for an extra 15 to 30 seconds of airtime for O’Mara, who loved to explain things.
His unvarnished honesty translated to unscripted moments on air that endeared viewers to him, whether he admitted to knowing nothing about the small talk topic in between segments or calmly telling viewers his system just crashed.
“That’s such a real human moment on the morning show,” Neruda said. “That’s live TV. That’s professionalism.”
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