Weather Payoff Can Come With Right Equipment

Apr 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

If a television station wants to assess whether its investment in new weather technology was worthwhile, there’s one surefire way to measure the payoff: Look at the ratings the day after a big weather day.

That’s why Shannon High-Bassalik, the VP of news at Viacom-owned CBS station WFOR-TV in Miami, likes her Barron’s radar, her WSI weather display system and her meteorologists. They served WFOR well when Florida was pummeled by four hurricanes last fall. The station’s average Nielsen Media Research household rating and share for the four storms was a 5.7/13, tops in the market, according to numbers supplied by WFOR.

“Look at the ratings the next morning and you will see who has the best coverage,” she said.

At the National Association of Broadcasters convention this week in Las Vegas, weather vendors will trot out the latest tools designed to help stations capture the lion’s share of the viewing numbers.

There’s good reason why stations invest in new equipment at a rapid clip, and why technology providers introduce new forecasting tools with relentless frequency. According to 2005 data from Audience Research & Development, 85 percent of local news viewers said severe weather information is “extremely important” and 78 percent said the daily weather is “extremely important.”

That’s why weather vendors such as AccuWeather, WSI, Weather Central and WeatherBug will showcase at NAB several updated options to stay abreast of severe weather.

AccuWeather is touting its new Predictive Radar, which predicts weather and storm patterns up to four hours in advance. That’s unusual, said Lee Rainey, AccuWeather’s VP of marketing, because radar as it’s used today depicts what has already happened.

Predictive Radar, available May 1, relies on a complicated series of algorithms based on NEXRAD (next-generation radar) data to predict where storm cells are likely to move. The new tool is a component of AccuWeather’s weather display system Galileo and can also be used with the local AccuWeather Channel.

AccuWeather will also offer its adjunct system StormMaster, a radar predictor of severe weather such as tornadoes, hail and flooding rains. AccuWeather is also making its 24-hour digital localized weather feed available nationwide. It’s already been rolled out in 20 markets.

At the show, AccuWeather competitor WSI plans to focus on its severe weather system known as Titan 2.0. It was battle-tested during the hurricane season of 2004, said Linda Maynard, WSI’s VP of marketing. During internal tests last fall, WSI found that Titan is about 33 percent to 44 percent more accurate than the National Weather Service forecast, Ms. Maynard said. Titan is an add-on to WSI’s main weather system True View.

Mike Cutler is news director at Landmark-owned CBS station WTVF-TV in Nashville, Tenn., which has been using Titan for just over a month. He said the station’s meteorologist has used the system’s 3-D capabilities to provide a different perspective-such as showing viewers a shot of clouds from beside them, rather than above them, to illustrate that the rain is actually farther away than one would think.

WTVF is the only station in Nashville with the system right now, and Mr. Cutler said it gives him a competitive advantage. Maintaining the weather edge is tough, though, as competitors tend to jump aboard quickly. “If there is something new to understand the weather, we want to get it first,” he said.

Also at the show, WeatherBug will demonstrate its WeatherBug Zoom 2.0, an all-digital live weather display system. It delivers severe weather information directly on-air and also sends online and e-mail alerts to meteorologists at a station once a certain threshold has been passed, such as wind gusts of more than 40 mph.

The system relies on its network of 8,000 WeatherBug tracking stations throughout the country. WeatherBug Zoom delivers the live weather feed from those weather stations to air during newscasts. “It’s streaming live weather as it happens from our WeatherBug stations,” said Andy Jedynak, senior VP at WeatherBug.

Not to be outdone, Weather Central will also offer new tools for severe weather. Its contribution this year will be a new storm-tracking system called ESP:LIVE, for “exclusive storm prediction.” It tracks the current status of a storm and its anticipated path over the next few hours. It’s scheduled to ship in June.

Wait and See

While weather vendors tweak their products at a dizzying pace, some stations are content to let others work out the kinks. That’s the case with Viacom-owned CBS station KCNC-TV in Denver, which is building out a new weather center for a July debut, said Walt DeHaven, the station’s general manager.

He’s particularly impressed with the performance of WFOR based on the numbers it and sister station KYW-TV in Philadelphia delivered during the hurricanes last fall.