It used to be that the local weatherman merely predicted the expected temperature, chance of precipitation and potential wind speeds. Rather than just reading the weather, like those weathermen of yore, today’s highly trained meteorologists analyze various weather models to create the most accurate local forecast possible. And because climate, weather and the environment are so intertwined, local meteorologists also are called upon to explain the environmental causes behind weather events as well as ways the weather can impact the environment.
“You have weather impacting the environment and the environment impacting weather. Add man into that mix as well and it’s really fascinating,” said Kaye Zusmann, vice president of programming strategy and development for the Weather Channel. And viewers can’t seem to get enough.
“What I’ve found over the years of doing weather coverage and content, and I worked in TV for a long time, is that generally the viewers ask for something and you start to see it ramp up in coverage,” said Mark Hoekzema, chief meteorologist for Weather Bug, which works with 80 broadcast stations across the country. “We’ve seen an increase in interest for content on water quality, air quality — the things that people perceive as a danger to them.”
He suspects a growing interest stemming from news coverage of environmental issues is why more people are seeking out information about weather and the environment. “The consumer is driving our content,” Mr. Hoekzema said.
“At the Weather Channel, we approach the environment via the climate, and weather is just a daily manifestation of the climate. So to us, when we cover climate and the environment, we’re covering the core of who we are as a network,” Ms. Zusmann said. “We’ve found that there’s a very easy and natural way to filter stories of environment and climate through the areas we already have the audience’s attention in.”
Tom Loebig, director of TV and video programs and productions at AccuWeather, said the general public is hungry for environmental information. “It’s not just about saving the environment, but it’s also in many ways helpful to people’s pocketbooks and budgets,” he said.
While some viewers might be interested in those practical applications, others are concerned with bigger issues, such as how warmer ocean temperatures, one sign of global warming, are fueling more powerful hurricanes, or how modern infrastructure exacerbates or lessens damage from weather events. Still others are more concerned with the health effects of changes in the environment.
“There have been many suggestions that some part of global warming is due to increased solar radiation and so on, and all of those pieces potentially tie together,” said Dr. R. Lee Rainey, VP of marketing, AccuWeather. “So if we can provide ways for the public to protect themselves, and for our immediate partners to make that part of their coverage, that’s very useful.”
AccuWeather offers UV, arthritis, migraine and asthma indices in its environmental coverage. “There’s a well-established link between weather and things like migraine headaches, so we provide an index that allows someone to determine whether this is likely to be a day they’ll suffer,” Dr. Rainey said. He said many adults turn to the Web for health-related information, so including it can generate more Web traffic for the 33 local AccuWeather channels. (The company anticipates 48 stations by the end of the year.)
Those indices are but one Web tool AccuWeather supplies to its local stations. “We try to be aggressive in all of the emerging technologies, because it’s not all about a TV screen anymore,” Mr. Loebig said.
“We’re [available via] broadcast, cable, digital cable, satellite, mobile, IPTV,” Dr. Rainey added. “Virtually any flavor of delivery vehicle to the home, we have folks who are using AccuWeather content.”
Advertisers are eager to sponsor specific reports or even health indices. “An advertiser obviously wants to be associated with something that is both popular and reflects well on them,” Mr. Loebig said. “It’s a cause they feel comfortable being associated with, and because it’s such a strong draw it’s a good advertising tool.”
“We really have a unique opportunity at the Weather Channel in that we have so many platforms, be it Weather.com, mobile, VOD or on-air long-form or on-air interstitial, we have all these different ways to reach people and talk about climate and the environment. And we’ve done it in a fairly seamless manner where people are very accepting of it, and from the responses we’ve gotten, they want more,” Ms. Zusmann said.
Those one- to two-minute interstitials span health, home improvement projects, outdoor and lawn and garden. “We’ve found that we’re able to filter out climate and environmental content through these verticals. So if we’re doing a story in DIY, it will be about green building,” she continued. “If we’re doing a story about weather and health, it may be about how asthma is affecting more people and how it’s related to how the climate is changing.”
Last fall, Dr. Heidi Cullen’s popular environmental segment became a full-fledged weekly series, “Forecast Earth.” In September the Weather Channel will add “Forecast Earth Newsbriefs.”
“In October we’ll premiere ‘The Weather Channel Climate Quiz’ with Bill Nye the Science Guy,” Ms. Zusmann said. The 60-second spots, she said, will feature Mr. Nye “asking climate-related questions to the typical man-on-the-street in both Venice Beach and Central Park.”
Earlier this year, AccuWeather launched “Headline Earth,” with AccuWeather on-air reporter Katie Fehlinger. “She looks at a variety of topics as far as global warming,” Mr. Loebig said. “Our mission, really, is to cut right down the middle and try to get all the viewpoints.” An abbreviated two-minute version of “Headline Earth” airs on local AccuWeather channels, while full-length segments up to six minutes are available at AccuWeather.com.
Providing environmental information doesn’t have to eat into airtime, with more outlets offering 24-hour access via the Internet.
“One of the nice features about our partnership with TV stations is that we also supply Web content for them to use on their Web sites,” Mr. Hoekzema said. “So along with having a network of local observations, they also get all the content coverage that we do.”
Weather Bug offers a vast amount of editorial coverage, including in-depth articles on climate change, seasonal forecasts, air-quality content and global warming content, which Mr. Hoekzema said people may be getting tired of.
“I think people are growing a little weary of the bad news because everything is tagged as being because of global warming,” he said. He blames sloppy research and a tendency for some less-than-responsible reporters to sensationalize recent research. “We try to be more responsible with our coverage,” he said. “We have scientists writing it, fellow meteorologists who know to look deeper into the research and not just pull out the big headlines and shocking news. With more responsible coverage, I don’t think there would be this tiring of it.”
Noting that people have begun joking about global warming being to blame for mundane occurrences such as a flat tire, he said, “That’s where you can see the public desensitizing because of the saturation of the information they’ve gotten.” That means people are less prone to pay attention to actual global warming concerns. “I don’t know how you can combat that. There just needs to be more responsibility from journalists and scientists.”
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