Life in the Box: Weather in the News



The more I think about local television, the more I believe that local weather is the one best—and most important—commonly produced television program. This conclusion surprises me. I was really tempted to write that the weathercast has outlived its usefulness, until I found out there’s nothing else like it, and that its localness is what makes it so important. 

If you look at the weather segments as one part of a newscast in the everyday news, it probably takes up a bit too much in the way of precious minutes. It also takes a great proportion of the technical costs of the news budget. And all that promotional stuff they do—inviting local children on the set, going on location to schools and science centers, and holding forth in small town gymnasiums—seems trite.

Over my lifetime, I’ve seen the weather graphics change from felt board and magnet boards to Chyron graphics to swooping and swirling color 3D of today. It seems the weather reporters are constantly updating, through the computer age, then the radar age, and then the Doppler, then the super Doppler. HD and the new computer-generated sets have been the most recent additions.

Competition with the meteorologists across town—for viewers and for advertising dollars—has been part of what spurs this ever-expanding need for visuals. So, the weather forecasters become local personalities and make endless public appearances. They have to be “popular” for the money to grow.

Over the years, I’ve become used to that competition, and a bit jaded about it. Couldn’t they just tell us the forecast and get on with it? Because of that attitude, I almost didn’t realize the importance of the daily news with all its whistles and bells. It can seem like flash and eye candy, and most days it is. But when the weather is bad, it becomes the most important equipment around.

It’s during those emergencies when we really do rely on weather reporters—and their computers—to save lives.

Because they use the equipment and read the signals every day, these reporters are familiar with the weather patterns, the rural and city areas, and the equipment. They provide a needed community service, offering intelligent and well-visualized messages about who needs to take shelter at the very time that it’s most necessary.

No one but local television news stations provide this service. They know “local” like no national or regional service does. And, they care enough to break into programming to share needed information.  

While we now have weather radar and news bulletins on our phones, we don’t get the whole picture until we turn on our local television station. And if the clowning around and promotional school assemblies pay for the weather segments, I guess I can shrug that off. After all, that’s a pretty small payment for a priceless service.

  author-picture2smallerNancy Heather Brown is an Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she uses gems from this treasure trove of life stories to add sparkle to her reflections on the creative process both inside and outside the box.