Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Top Ten Things Your Weather Forecaster Won't Tell You

The Austin Forecast

The August issue of “Smart Money” magazine includes a short piece on “The 10 Things Your Weather Forecaster Won’t Tell You.” As we bake in the oven of the hottest summer on record, whenever the weather forecasters speak, we listen.

I’ve written it before, and I’ll write again: Weather is the ratings driver. Living here in Central Texas, otherwise known (at least before this past year or two) as “Flash Flood Alley”, we know what a spring or summer storm can do. At the very least, it will drive viewers to their TV sets. Nowadays, the lack of rain is still makes weather worth watching while wishing for a rain shower on the radar.

Certainly, I won’t rip off Jim Rendon’s story in the magazine. That wouldn’t be right. He lists his “Top 10” and follows with reasons why. I’m going to take his “Top 10” and put the Central Texas spin on it.

#1 “Long Term Forecast” – Your guess is a good as ours. Forecasters can nail the next two or three days, but those seven day forecasts may be problematic. Actually, this time of the year in Austin, almost any long-time resident can predict the weather: “Late night and early morning cloudiness, then partly cloudy with a high in the upper 90s and lows in the upper 70s or lower ‘80s. Winds 5 to 10 miles per hour. Chances for precipitation—20-30-percent. That chance for precipitation is a best guess just in case there is enough available moisture and enough daytime heating for a pop-up shower. This forecast is generally good until late September. Yet, we still watch and hope.

#2 “We’re Pretty Accurate, As Long As the Sun Is Shining.” (See above.)

#3 “We’re Often More Show Biz Than Science” – Yeah, presentation makes somewhat of a difference, but Austin is lucky. In an earlier post I listed the professional qualifications of our television weather personalities. They’re personalities, but they have proven that they know what they’re doing with basic education and continuing education, plus certifications in most cases.

#4 “Our High Tech Gizmos Do Everything But Predict the Weather” – Well, yes and no. It goes back to #3. Some doing TV weather are better at playing with the toys than others. Further, as I’ve said before, some stations have better computer software than others. In my opinion, KEYE TV (CBS) and KXAN TV (NBC) have the best weather graphics.

#5 “Want the Temperature? Don’t Ask the National Weather Service” – We all know that the thermometer at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport doesn’t represent the temperature where most of us live. No surprise here.

#6 “Weather Is Big Business” – Yeah. That’s why they have a story in “Smart Money”.

#7 “Bad Weather Means Big Ratings” – See #6 and #1.

#8 “And It’s Always Bad During Sweeps Week” – Not lately. Austin stations wish it were so. May is historically Austin’s wettest month. May, 2008 had one bad day, May 15th. That was it. May, 2009, zero. Life is hard.

#9 “Accuracy? Who Cares?” – True nobody is keeping score, but I think that viewers to develop beliefs about who has the best forecast. See all of the numbers above.

#10 “Weather Is Recession Proof” – That’s pretty much true, but TV is a tough, competitive business. While there hasn’t been much change in the weather staffs here, other parts of the country have seen weather consolidated, staffed out of one studio for several stations. It saves money. I doubt it saves much more.

We’ll never see that here in Central Texas. “We're really a mixing pot of all possible air masses,” says Troy Kimmel, KEYE TV meteorologist. One of them is the so-called “Marfa Dry Line”. “The dry line is the forward boundary of the continental tropical air mass,” Kimmel said. All of this makes it more difficult to predict weather in Central Texas weather.

Lately, forecasters have been including that 20 or 30-percent chance for rain. KXAN TV’s Jim Spencer calls it “bad luck”. He details several other possible reasons in his weather blog. (http://blogs.kxan.com/weather/) If you’re a weather geek like me, it’s a good read.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

1 comment:

Jim Spencer said...

In the interest of full disclosure, allow me to point out that News McNabb has done a few weathercasts in his day... He knows of what he speaks!