A headshot of Tatum Larsen

By Andrew Jimenez

In the late summer of 2023, the people of Palm Springs, CA, faced the life-altering effects of Hurricane Hilary. Though the storm wreaked havoc for two days, no lives were lost. This wasn’t a miracle, however. It was thanks to the diligence and hard work of their local weather forecasters and journalists that the citizens of Palm Springs weathered the storm. One member of this team, UCI alumna Tatum Larsen, dedicated herself to reporting on the aftermath so as to bring aid to those in need. 

The yo-yo path 

For Larsen ‘21 (B.A. literary journalism), the buzz of the local news station was an ever-present noise in her childhood home. As a teenager, she’d pass the time reading articles and watching TV stations, both of which fueled her growing passion for social activism. She admired these professionals, whose job it was to tell community stories that could make change. 

Larsen began her UCI journey with this admiration for these storytellers, though convinced that someone shy like her did not have the right kind of constitution for that work. She reflected, “I always thought success was more for extroverted people, something that I was not!” And so Larsen felt torn when considering which major to pursue. While Larsen loved literature and writing, prompting her to consider English, she was similarly attracted to law, where she felt like her passion for driving social change could have real impact. And then the leap happened: she chose a third option, which combined all her interests into one. Majoring in literary journalism would send her on a trajectory that would alter her perception of herself and what she had believed she was capable of. 

Making space at "The Welcome Table" 

Taking that leap was just the start, especially in changing Larsen’s definitions of success for herself. She began working as a campus reporter at UCI’s radio station KUCI. Through a rigorous schedule of reporting and writing, Larsen embraced the university’s media community and began constructing the foundations of a future career in weather forecasting. Most significantly, Larsen’s view of herself changed; “I’m a shy person by nature so it was a big jump for me to do KUCI. The work gave me a huge boost in my confidence and let me know that I could do so much more than I imagined.” 

Larsen’s efforts at KUCI caught the attention of Professor Amy DePaul and then-School of Humanities Communications Director Annabel Adams. They approached Larsen, as well as her peer Sydney Charles ‘21 (B.A. literary journalism), and asked the two to pitch their own UCI web series. Larsen and Charles reflected on the COVID-19 pandemic that was beginning to sweep the world and the simultaneous rise of the Black Lives Matter movement following the worldwide protests in response to the killing of George Floyd. The duo felt driven to give back to their community, and drew upon these events to develop “The Welcome Table with Sydney and Tatum.” 


In “The Welcome Table,” Larsen and Charles focused on bringing the underrepresented UCI Black community to the forefront, utilizing each episode to spotlight a story of growth and success of UCI’s Black faculty, staff, students and alumni. The series won a 2020 CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) Gold Award for its impact on building community and bringing people together during a difficult time. The entire experience of creating and recording the series was eye-opening for Larsen, who reflected that “success isn’t linear. It’s a yo-yo path that everyone is on.” 

Weather patterns 

After UCI, Larsen decided to pursue additional education by attending USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. And she found her next “leap” there, too – an open position at KESQ-TV as a weather reporter. “Before this job, I was ignorant as to what they did,” she said with a smile. “And I live in a desert, so I imagined my days would entail me telling people, over and over, about how it’ll be sunny and hot.” The situation in the real world was far more complex, though. Larsen quickly adapted, and in the process developed an appreciation for the kind of research conducted by meteorologists. 

In late August of 2023, Hurricane Hilary threatened California’s borders. Due to the nature of its terrain, forecasters predicted that Palm Springs, Larsen’s home and community, could experience disaster. The KESQ-TV team got to work to inform and prepare Palm Springs residents before, during and after the hurricane. The damage from the storm was immense, destroying homes and ruining livelihoods. As part of her journalism and outreach to the community, Larsen met with community members, listening to their stories about how the storm had changed their lives. Larsen detailed how one resident named Lydia struck a particular cord with her. “Lydia took me into her home, which was utterly ruined, to tell me her story.” Having just moved into a retirement home before the hurricane, Lydia’s home was now filled with mountains of mud, leaving her uncertain about her future.

In the following six months, Larsen’s team continued to report on these stories so that wider audiences would hear the plights of their community. While local residents like Lydia have conveyed their gratitude for this media coverage, it’s been especially important for the national audience. When President Biden passed a bill to provide FEMA aid to repair damage caused by Hurricane Hilary, Larsen contacted Lydia to congratulate her. Larsen continues to work on this story, in the hopes of securing additional aid to help rebuild homes and the city’s storm drainage system. 

The human voice 

In light of her experience reporting on a disaster like Hurricane Hilary, Larsen is skeptical about the impact of utilizing artificial intelligence to produce quick-form stories. For Larsen, the human voice in journalism is irreplaceable. She emphasizes that the “real human aspect infused into our work – by being there with residents, allowing ourselves to feel with them – is what allows us to tell their story. A human story. How can AI interpret the human heart to tell these stories?” she wonders. 

Larsen continues to look forward, ready for the next leap that allows her to reach more people and tell their stories. She advises interested journalism students to be open to trying everything that comes their way, and that “with so many different avenues, don’t box yourself into only what you think you already can do. Just get your foot in the door: print, radio or video. Find something that you can create on your own, and help grow it into something great. Anything can catalyze your career. Be willing to try (almost) everything!”

About Andrew Jimenez

Andrew Jimenez is a UCI Communications Specialist and will soon graduate with a B.A. in history. He wishes to use his lifelong passion for writing and sharpened research skills to inspire others through his writing. After graduating in June, Jimenez plans on working as a freelance writer and a communications specialist. 

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Curious to know more about “The Welcome Table with Sydney and Tatum”? Check out past episodes on our website

And follow Larsen via her socials:

Instagram: @tatumlarsen_kesq

Twitter/X: TatumLarsen_KESQ

KESQ Profile: https://kesq.com/tatum-larsen 

Larsen’s Articles: https://kesq.com/author/tatum-larsen/

Literary Journalism