Weather May Not Be Enough

We’ve talked before about the winners in the digital age. Platforms and aggregators, and here comes The Weather Channel as both.

As predicted, TWC is signing up stations, at the corporate level, and wants to become “the homepage for planet earth”. Local stations submit their content to the collective and the directives to the stations say they are not looking for your local forecast. They’ve looked at the data and understand that puppies, failed skateboard tricks and panic headlines are what moves traffic, and they want it.

Brillant. Soon every employee in at least one station in every market will be filtering content (aggregators) and submitting the best to the mother ship (platform).

The breathless reporting on the Godzilla El Niño may have been a little off the mark.

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Big shout-out to NBC 5 in Dallas-Fort Worth.

This is what social media is supposed to be. As I understand it, the station started #ClearTheShelters last year and a number of NBC stations across the country joined in this year.

Platforms win. Facebook and Twitter produce no original content, they enable. We still have pretty big megaphones in our markets and people (and dogs and cats) need our reach.

Further props to the station for really “owning it”. Look at the banners, and the logo on Katy’s sleeve. That is a custom shirt for the event.

Social media (much like weather) is a promotional activity. Not directly monetized, and difficult to measure the return. I dare you to take a minute and do an image search on #ClearTheShelters. It’ll make your heart warmer than the desert southwest during a heatwave.


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Hello Texoma!

Not sure if I have ever told this story. It is worth repeating. 100 years ago, when I first began interning with James Spann, I made a critical observation of how he became “James Spann”.

Every day he did a school speech (about every day) he would use a VHS video recorder to spray some video of the kids and show it on the 5:00 news. (VHS was a video format requiring a device a little smaller than a typewriter to record video. (A typewriter was a device used to write letters on paper.))

Every now and then I would get a panicked phone call from a parent begging for a copy of the newscast because half of little Timmy’s face was on TV for three quarters of a second but the VCR was flashing 12:00 and the appearance wasn’t recorded. (A VCR was a device used to record television programs.)


Last night I showed a few lightning pictures sent in by a viewer. This screenshot is from her Facebook page, a short video clip of her using her phone to shoot her “appearance” on TV. As of this writing, 84 likes, 18 comments. The critical unseen part is that I let her know in advance.


At my station we do something called, “Hello Texoma! After my weather talk the group gathers to say, “Helloooooo, Texoma!” and I spray some video and use it as the in-bump to the weather segment, usually all of 7 seconds.

Do most of the viewers care? Nope. Do those 20 kids, and their 40 parents, and 80 grandparents, and some number of neighbors care? You bet.

The big takeaways are: 1. Get credit for your appearances on TV, social and the website. 2. The most important connections are made one small group at a time.

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Snakes and Lab Rats

I’ve about had it with Facebook. (yes…again)

Go take a look at this

Facebook is experimenting on us again.


A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of a record breaking monthly rainfall in my market, I posted this picture on the station Facebook page with a quick comment about safety around flood waters. According to Mr. Zuckerberg it did 1.1 million reach…..from an account with about 24,000 Likes. Baloney. WSOC, referenced in the article above…baloney.

A couple of years ago James Spann’s Facebook account disappeared on a Saturday afternoon. Boom. Gone. No explanation, big trouble trying to get it back, yadda, yadda, yadda…it reappeared late Sunday morning and I was able to get James a spot on the influencial tech podcast This Week in Google to talk about the incident. Several other TV weather accounts had disappeared around the same time.

As James was telling the story one of the hosts sent a note to Facebook’s chief lobbyist in Washington asking for an explanation. By the time James finished his tale, the response came in. “It was a mistake.” WHAT?! Everyone on the program said, “Oh, okay.” WHAT?!?!

The really interesting part of the story came the following week when the show host mentioned that he had gotten another note from his Facebook contact the following day. The executive told the host that everyone who could have answered the question had been off-campus and when someone finally got back to him the actual answer was, “It was a mistake.” WHAT?!?!?

We’re lab rats. Remember the revelation that Facebook manipulated the feeds of more than three-quarters of a million people with positive and negative stories to measure how it affected their posts? Remember when Facebook used a third-party company to track users credit card purchases to prove to advertisers that their ads worked? Remember when Facebook served up a picture of a snake to 1.1 million people?

I contend that TV weather people led the way into this. News followed and some estimates are that some sites get 70% their traffic from Facebook. We blew it. Filling Pages with perishable temperature maps, that are filtered by EdgeRank may “feel like work” but it is a disservice.

So, quit complaining, Kevin. Just leave.

The last few days I’ve found myself with an opportunity to work on a little side project. Facebook would probably be helpful.

Oh…..wait. Look at that yummy piece of cheese over there…I love cheese. Wonder what that giant spring loaded piece of metal is behind the cheese? Huh…probably nothing.

(SNAP) (Gasp) (death rattle…….)

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Release The Humans

I’ve just started Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull. In the first chapter I can tell it is going to be a favorite. Catmull runs Pixar.

Here is one of the early money quotes:

The definition of superb animation is that each character on the screen makes you believe it is a thinking being.

I was talking with Nate Johnson the other day and he perfectly encapsulated one of the main themes of this blog. We were talking about the WRAL-TV website and Nate said, “There is no evidence that there is a human behind the web page.”

Perfect. It is the only thing we have left.

So, this post turns into an open letter to all broadcast IT managers. Your template site will never lift your stations above every other weather site on the web, or in the local market, until you enable the local meteorologists. And the solutions will not be the same for each market.


Luxo Jr. (Courtesy: Pixar)

Is Luxo Jr. more human than your website?

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Civility, Correction, and the Weather Enterprise

When I was a cub chief meteorologist at a TV station in rural Texas, I noticed that our competition was using one of the credentials of our trade in a way that, while technically against the rules, wasn’t really causing me or anyone else any trouble.  Being the newly-credentialed, prideful kid I was, though, I reported the station to the folks in charge of that particular credential for violating their rules anyway.

Thinking I’d do the other chief a “favor”, I caught up with him at a public event we were both at shortly thereafter and “let him know” about it so he “wouldn’t be caught off guard” by whatever happened.  His response was simple: He didn’t have anything specific to do with that decision but that I should “do whatever [I] felt like I had to do”.  On at least one level, though, he seemed genuinely hurt that I thought so little of our relationship as colleagues serving the same area that I didn’t approach him first.

It was a real “stay classy, San Diego” moment for me.  I walked away feeling awful.  Shoot, it’s been more than a decade, and I still feel awful about it, especially since in every regard, the fellow was always and has been nothing but a class act to me and in the community he still serves.  I was and still am humbled.

That’s not to say we should let things devolve into a free-for-all where order and correctness do not matter.  Any community that is interested in improving upon the status quo must both adopt and maintain standards for orderly conduct and have a way for more learned members to instruct or correct less-well-informed on points of knowledge or etiquette when needed.  Further, the community and its members must be able to celebrate the successes of some even while learning from the shortcomings of others.  And we must do so within the context of our relationships with one another as members of a vibrant and diverse community.

Thursday was a great example of how this can work, as I watched a number of colleagues gently and reasonably inform another colleague of shortcomings in an explanation he provided on a public forum.  They did so not to embarrass but to educate not only our colleague but those who depend on him for information.  It was measured and respectful. The spirit in which this correction was offered was one of service to science and to our fellow weather enthusiasts.  I can only hope it was received as such and that should I ever speak beyond my understanding, my colleagues will reach out and guide me onto the right path similarly.

Adam Baker -

Adam Baker via Flickr (CC 2.0)

However good this example, though, events over the past few weeks suggest our community, our Weather Enterprise, still has a ways to go — And I write this as a man living in a glass house with a bunch of busted windows and a stone in his hand.

If you’re reading this, chances are, you already know what I’m talking about.  That’s good because I’m not going to go into detail here, but suffice it to say, it wasn’t just one thing, one person, one day, or one forum, and folks from every corner of the Weather Enterprise got involved.  In some cases, it’s a tone that belies the façade of respect; a snarky, dodging response to a fair question.  Elsewhere, it’s a perception that some are gloating over the shortcomings of others.  There’s even been willful ignorance of respective roles of various members of our community, some straw-manning, and even some argumentum ad hominem and disrespect, too.

Emeldil via Wikipedia (CC 3.0)

Look, I don’t expect us all to be gathering ‘round the campfire, holding hands, and singing Kum ba yah all the time.  It’s OK to have disagreements.  We’re allowed to have different interests, goals, purposes, and audiences even within this big umbrella of improving weather forecasting, research, and understanding of ours.  The interactions amongst us — when they are civil, respectful, and productive — are what drive our community forward toward better forecasts, better warnings, and better service to our publics and clients.  And it’s great that, by and large, we who self-select into our community tend to be passionate about what we do and whom we serve. It certainly makes our conferences more interesting! Put more directly, we need each other, and the Weather Enterprise needs the diversity of approaches that arises from the unique blend of public, private, media, academic, and other contributors to the community.

However, I fear that we sometimes get caught up in whatever you want to call it — the moment, the heat of battle, the sake of argument — and we cross the line.  Our passion for personal and professional growth and advancement of our organization, employer, or “side” turns uncivil, disrespectful, and unproductive, and we harm the very relationships that make our Enterprise work.  In that moment, we forget that, whether it’s a technicality reported by an over-confident kid or an issue of deep import to our entire community, when we get down to it, we’re all people fascinated with the weather.  We’re all in this crazy business of trying to figure out Mother Nature’s next move together, and we’re all one event — or one silly technicality — from being humbled.

Every sailor knows that the sea
Is a friend made enemy
And every shipwrecked soul, knows what it is
To live without intimacy
I thought I heard the captain’s voice
It’s hard to listen while you preach
Like every broken wave on the shore
This is as far as I could reach
— U2, “Every Breaking Wave”

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Boring, Unmotivated, Non-local, Milktoast…Passion and Prairie Dogs


[milk-tohst]  adjective:  easily dominated; extremely mild; ineffectual; namby-pamby; wishy-washy.

I wonder if we could hear from the corporate office as to why everything must look the same.

This is from Gannett. Can’t remember which market. Doesn’t matter, they all look this way.


I love taking pictures. I can’t remember the number of times I would dig down in my camera bag and find an undeveloped roll of film (film, by the way, was how us old folks captured images. Film had to be developed before you could see the image). The roll might have been in there for months. Sometimes the images didn’t matter. Firing the shutter is what mattered. It is a passion.

One of the great things about coming to a new market is you are less bound by inertia. “This is the way we’ve always done it,” doesn’t seem to mean as much. It is an excuse to push the edges a bit.

Frustrated with the graphics package I inherited, I started using some of my own images behind the forecast, taking a moment to talk about the shot before revealing the graphics. The prairie dogs are from a hike we took through the Wichita Mountains.

forecastthumbsThese images are far and away the number one comment (other than “Welcome to town.”) I get from viewers. At least a few times a week. This past week I was in the doctor’s office, dealing with kidney stones and clearly not at my best…baseball cap, unshaven and looking like death on a soda cracker. It is quite a thing for more than one person to come up to you in that environment and whisper, “I really enjoy your pictures.”

I’m not suggesting photos for your forecast. What I can feel is how my passion is being seen by my viewers.

We had a pretty good discussion on the topic of TV weather on WeatherBrains this week. It is worth a listen.

Welcome to your new market. Change course. Share your passion. It’ll show. People will appreciate it. (Let me know what you choose.)

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