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Tribune Broadcasting Weather Center Blows Into Windy City for June Launch

Mar 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Chicago is a city that’s often been defined by its weather. Now the city’s distinctive weather combined with its being the home to a cable network, a TV station and a newspaper owned by the same media company have made it a logical spot for a unique state-of-the-art weather center.
Tribune Broadcasting’s WB affiliate WGN-TV will soon host a new weather facility in its former newsroom for WGN, sister regional cable network CLTV and sister newspaper the Chicago Tribune and their Web operations. Construction of the new facility should begin in mid-February, with testing slated for May and live on-air use for June.
The facility is noteworthy because there aren’t many markets where one company owns so many different types of news organizations.
The new weather center will provide the meteorologists the latest in weather tools, maps and charts. It will also serve as a central hub for the weather operations of the different news outlets, almost like a centralcasting experiment but within the same market. “We do a lot of meteorological work across Chicago’s Tribune entities,” said Tom Skilling, WGN’s lead weathercaster. “We hope to consolidate under one roof, share data and reduce the need to replicate weather across our stations and news outlets.”
While the new weather center will consolidate weather coverage, no positions will be cut, said John Vitanovec, VP and general manager for WGN. In fact, WGN plans to add a meteorologist/weather reporter in the late spring and CLTV intends to increase its weather coverage, he said.
The center will allow the two TV outlets to collaborate and share weather data more easily, WGN News Director Greg Caputo said. “One thing we could do if we had a breaking weather situation and needed to alert our viewers but wanted to provide more information to some viewers, we could continue that coverage on CLTV,” he said.
The weather center will serve as both the studio and the offices for the weather staff. Since the chromakey will be located in the same area as the offices, precious seconds can be saved when WGN or CLTV need to go live with breaking weather news, Mr. Vitanovec said.
Graphics and forecasting tools will be improved. The center will use Weather Producer, the latest weather system from weather data provider WSI, which includes new atmospheric and modeling tools. “We are taking our computer graphics to the next level with numerical modeling of atmosphere to show the atmosphere evolving into the future,” said Mr. Skilling.
The center will house a new “mesoscale,” or medium scale,” computer model to delineate weather differences across the Chicago area. “It fleshes out details of weather patterns for the area,” he said. The WSI system also allows for weather crawls and warnings on screen.
In addition, the weathercasters will have access to proprietary climate analysis tools, drawing on historical data that WGN and CLTV have amassed. That data can be put to use in the broadcasts to provide more historical context for current weather. As a result of having the new tools, WGN will produce more half-hour weather programs, such as the special it aired in late December on the history of winter weather.
The staff that produces the Chicago Tribune’s weather page is currently located on a different floor and will relocate to the new venue when it’s completed. The CLTV staff will then move from their building into the WGN one.
The new facility makes sense for Tribune Broadcasting because of the strength of Tom Skilling as a weather franchise, said Jim Lichtenstein, a newsroom consultant who worked in local TV news in Chicago for 23 years
“WGN’s big push is for weather and this guy is thought of maybe as the person in the country for weather. He’s huge in Chicago,” he said.
The weather center could also serve as a model for other markets even if there isn’t common ownership across different media entities. If strong ties exist between regional cable networks, local TV stations and local newspapers, for instance, they could conceivably form a partnership to provide joint weather coverage, said Mr. Lichtenstein.
Sinclair Broadcasting has begun centralcasting weather at many of its TV stations. The stations receive centralized weather coverage from Sinclair’s News Central facility in Hunt Valley, Md.