Local TV meteorologists embrace web-social media in lieu of airtime

On a day that saw the resumption of post-shutdown operations at the neighboring National Weather Service Center for Weather and Climate Predication, the UMD Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) fittingly welcomed NBC Washington D.C. television affiliate meteorologists, Doug Kammerer and Amelia Segal to a special event seminar at the University of Maryland Research Park.

Kammerer and Segal, who had last visited UMD ESSIC in July of 2013 to participate in a joint UMD-NOAA severe weather workshop for weather media, presented a talk entitled, “Television Meteorology and the impact of Social Media.”

In his pre-talk introduction, ESSIC Director and ConE Chair Professor Antonio Busalacchi noted that broadcast meteorology often represented the earliest and most frequent exposure to science for kids. NBC4 Chief Meteorologist Kammerer whole-heartedly agreed, quipping that his first exposure to ensemble forecasting involved consolidating and interpreting the various evening TV forecasts from his childhood home in nearby Herndon, Virginia.

Kammerer and Segal began their joint-talk in a causal back-and-forth discussion-style, sans slides, echoing Busalacchi’s earlier sentiments regarding the historic association of broadcast meteorology to science. Yet surprisingly, the pair confessed that the educational and explanatory components that had rooted the longstanding public perception, had become somewhat diluted in recent years.

When prompted for the reasoning behind the scaled-down reporting, Kammerer candidly explained that the trend was largely driven by hired consultants, who advise stations on which elements of their new-casts statistically meet the needs and expectations of its surveyed viewers.

Segal mentioned that the restrictions on greater forecast discussion had been particularly challenging for more senior broadcast meteorologists, accustomed to explaining their forecasts in greater depth. Kammerer agreed, noting that at the start of his career it wasn’t unusual for him to present 20-22 weather elements in his on-air forecast segment. He now typically presents about 9.

Kammerer pointed out however, that broadcast meteorology was still vitally important to the success of any local news program, with as many as 70% of a station’s viewers tuning in expressly for the weather.

Local station meteorology also continues to provide a public service component and connection to area residents as well according to Kammerer, who noted that earlier experiments with large regional weather providers had failed.

Kammerer attributed the demise of the multi-regional conglomerates to their inability to respond live and in-person to extreme or serious weather events effecting local viewers. The D.C. area’s devastating 2012 Derecho storm was cited as an example.

As the talk proceeded, the pair painted what presumably was an intentionally conflicted picture; Viewer interest in the weather was obviously still very high and the public service commitment forecasters traditionally maintained hadn’t been diminished. Yet the on-air window provided to more fully disseminate and explain the science of weather had certainly become truncated; in step technology.

To combat the shortened on-air times faced by many broadcast meteorologists, many like Kammerer and Segal have turned to web, social media, and smartphone outlets as a mechanism for expounding on the weather.

The WRC-TV Storm-Team4 brand has reinforced their web presence with an in-depth homepage on the stations web-site, complete with radars, maps, forecasts, and alerts. Streamed-forecasts from the various newscasts are also available.

Team members have also embraced social media giants Twitter and Facebook, creating a more personal and reciprocal real-time take on current weather and weather topicality. The station routinely provides its social followers with weather-related photos, graphics, and forecast discussion, offering users the chance to post comments, likes, redistribute, and note their own observations.

Kammerer in fact, recalled a recent unforeseen rain-event that was relayed to him by area twitter users. Kammerer noted that although the event wasn’t immediately visible via radar, he was able to fine-tune his vantage point, based solely on the provided ground-based user observations. With the new data in-hand, Kammerer adjusted his forecast appropriately and later provided the information to viewers in his late evening report.

NBC4 like many others has also worked to disseminate information and engage users on the go, with a sophisticated Droid and iPhone weather application. The full-featured app provides smartphones users with access to NOWrad radar, integrated GPS location awareness, color-coded weather alerts, as well as high resolution satellite imagery.

Kammerer concluded the pair’s discussion by acknowledging his uncertainty regarding the future landscape of broadcast meteorology, at least within its historical context. It’s certainly plausible however, that Kammerer, Segal, and others like them, are unknowingly providing a sneak peek into the future of news meteorology and in fact, other genres of broadcast journalism as well.