by Tim Heller, Talent Coach and Weather Content Consultant
As the coronavirus spreads and local authorities call for more social distancing, television stations are responding by separating the members of their news team. Most by at least six feet, some by several miles. According to a new RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University survey, 92% of news managers say their staff is "working from home or working in a different way." Many reporters and anchors never come into the office.
Working from home is especially complicated for broadcast meteorologists who write the forecast, create the graphics, produce their hits and usually anchor in front of a video wall or chromakey screen. However, many have found innovative ways to cover the weather from home.
"Our engineering and production team made it possible for me to have every tool I have in the studio in my living room at home," says Wes Hohenstien, Chief Meteorologist at WNCN in Raleigh-Durham, NC.
Hohenstein has been doing the weather from home for over two weeks. And he doesn't hide it. His marketing team created a "Home Storm Center" branded sign that he attached to the top of his living room television.
Wes Hohenstien, Chief Meteorologist at WNCN
In some cases, viewers might not notice any difference in how the weathercast looks. While it seems like the meteorologist is in the studio, they could be several miles away.
"I have a fabric green screen taking up a wall in my living room," explained Kari Hall, the morning meteorologist at KNTV in San Francisco. "When lit properly, the control room director can superimpose graphics from my weather computer behind me. All of the magic of technology makes this possible to work from home."
Kari Hall, KNTV
Realizing that he could be working from home for a while, Carlos Robles, the Chief Meteorologist at KTMD in Houston, cleared out his living room so he would have space to present his weathercast using augmented reality.
Carlos Robles, the Chief Meteorologist at KTMD
"You need at least sixteen feet for the augmented reality, and at least two powerful lights. Also, the camera needs to be in a high place to get a wide-angle view," Robles told me.
More Complicated Than it Looks
All of this looks easier to accomplish than it is, of course. In addition to producing the weathercast, broadcast meteorologists must set up the lights and camera, establish a connection back to the station and often deal with a short delay when anchoring live. Many plan to relocate back to the studio in the event of severe weather in order to have quick access to storm tracking tools and the ability to go on air immediately.
Hohenstien adds, "It is severe weather season…and keeping viewers safe and informed remains our top priority."
Before coronavirus, it was not unusual to find Ed Piotrowski standing in front of a chalkboard when he wasn't working in front of the chromakey. Piotrowski, the Chief Meteorologist at WPDE in Myrtle Beach, SC, does over 100 school visits a year. Not now.
Ed Piotrowski, the Chief Meteorologist at WPDE
"When schools closed, all my school visits were canceled for the rest of the school year. I figured if I couldn't do my presentation in person, I could still do it live via Facebook," he told me. "The kids really seem to enjoy the lesson while the adults (who also seem to enjoy it!) catch a break from the rigors of homeschooling for 30-45 minutes."
Some weather teams are finding ways to add to the coronavirus coverage. While they aren’t experts on viruses, broadcast meteorologists are usually the only scientists in the newsroom and are adept at explaining complicated natural systems.
Justin Horne, a meteorologist at KSAT in San Antonio, Texas, wrote a long article for the station's website describing how the virus might be affected by the weather. While this kind of coverage might be too lengthy for television, it adds depth to the station's online coverage. Links inside the article allow readers to do additional research if they desire.
Some Coaching Advice for Broadcast Meteorologists
The weathercast might be the only part of the newscast that isn't about the coronavirus, giving viewers a needed break from the (bad) news of the day and some sense of normalcy. Still, this isn't a time for in-depth, non-essential weather coverage.
A person’s ability to absorb information is limited by the amount of news coverage they are consuming every day. Whether broadcast meteorologists are still anchoring in the studio or covering the weather from home, they will serve their viewers better by limiting the weather content to essential information.
- What do viewers want to know and need to know right now?
- What do you want viewers to remember after watching your weathercasts?
- What’s the underlying theme of your weather hits?