Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stormy Weather

TV Weather Staffs Rejoice

For months and months, the local TV weather staffs have scanned the skies, hoping to see a cumulo-nimbus cloud coming our way. They longed to play with their toys. Wednesday afternoon, a line of storms formed in the Hill Country and started its march east. It blew into the viewing area just in time for afternoon and early evening viewing, pelting people and their property with hail stones up to the size of a tennis balls. Soon, the weather reporters were joined by the news reporters and anchors to tell the story as it developed.

The weather put on a destructive show. The television stations had time to put their people in place to provide reports. Honestly, all did a good job.

If viewers wondered why there were few traditional live shots, it is because of concerns for the safety of the crews. Live truck operators should not raise their towers and establish a signal if there is still lightning in the area.

KVUE TV (ABC)’s Mark Murray did his usual professional job working his way through graphics with a calm demeanor. His graphics package has one feature that seems better than others, the software that predicts arrival of the storm in various neighborhoods in the storm’s path. All stations have this, but his looked better. However, the rest of his graphics don’t measure up to those of KEYE TV (CBS) and KXAN (NBC). KVUE producers also chose to use a split screen during much of their coverage. Unfortunately, many viewers do not have giant screen HDTVs. So, the split screens, particularly the weather maps were rather hard to read. KVUE did have reporters in the field using live trucks. At least live shot was during a driving rain storm.

Susan Vessell, chief meteorologist at KEYE used her graphics well. She is very competent. The other available meteorologist Megan Campbell was reporting outside the station using a hand-held instrument to measure the wind velocity. Jason Wheeler was at the station in north Austin. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much action there. Gregg Watson was out in the Hill Country where there was a lot going on. Unfortunately, he had to be on the telephone. Judy Maggio did have an excellent telephone interview with a storm victim who lost all of the windows in her house.

News 8 was adequate, but Maureen McCann appeared to be all by herself, once saying that there were email photos she had not had time to check them. I will also admit that I didn’t spend a great deal of time on News 8 tonight. Ms. McCann always does a good job.

Scott Fisher, KTBC TV (Fox) chief meteorologist, was also adequate. Mr. Fisher has something of a speech pattern which, after watching a while, tends to wear some viewers down.

I’ve been accused of favoring KXAN TV. I’ll probably get the criticism again. Fine.

Some of my praise for KXAN coverage is because of the kind of weather reporter Jim Spencer is. Some of it was making lemonade out of lemons in the middle of storm. Some of it was a full-court press, using everyone, including anchor Robert Hadlock who found live pictures from the TexDOT traffic cameras. Former Hill Country reporter Erin Cargile was in the Hill Country on the phone. Also on the phone describing cars with windshields “busted out” (again and again) was reporter Carla Castano.

All of that was pretty normal until lightning struck, literally. The station took a power hit. Spencer kept talking and finding something to talk about while rebooting a weather center full of the computers that produce the radar images and projections. It could have been an awful and awkward moment, but Spencer has been there before. Spencer also seemed to have the most help. Both Mary Lee and Natalie Stoll were on hand to keep the crawl going across the bottom of the screen and find photos in the email. So, they were there when the lights went out.

Then came the “money shot”: KXAN Reporter Jenny Hoff and photojournalist Thomas Costley, armed with a camera-equipped laptop computer connected through Skype, found the huge hail. Spencer conversed with Hoff and even called Costley to gather hail stones and show them to the audience. Hoff had an earlier shot while it was raining. It was interesting, because of the technology, but contributed little. The Skype call with the hail stones was “money”. Later, they interviewed a homeowner who lost windows to the hail stones. Reporter Matt Flener also used the broadband technology.

Conveniently, the heavy weather exited to the east right at 7 p.m., and all stations returned to regular programming.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Lance Hagood said...

Nothing will ever replace live weather play by play coverage, and the live field work done by these crews.
They run toward and into the same danger to get the story, without the protection of a badge or commission. Private sector serving the community at its best...

Anonymous said...

Ah, but they are getting PAID to do so. While I agree they don't have a badge or a commission, neither do the hundreds of volunteers who put themselves in danger daily for no pay, no glory, no TV time, nothing. They do it because they love their community. Let's not forget about the real heros in times like this.

Matt Flener said...

Hi Jim, Matt Flener here...great stuff on your blog! Keep it up...and keep us honest!

Anonymous said...

Weekend wx anchor on KXAN can't pronounce the word CLOUD. Listen in sometime since you're such an expert on speech patterns. She drops the "L" and says cowd cover. Makes for a fun drinking game.