Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Weather Channel's Name Game

 Last week, the Weather Channel indicated to the world that they would begin naming "noteworthy" winter storms.  Without playing snowball with the National Weather Service, the American Meteorological Society, or the National Weather Association, the Weather Channel begins naming storms this winter based on "soon-to-be-released criteria".  From day one, this Weather Channel concept has been a multi-release, multi-part, publicity power play transparent to those who have spent any time in broadcasting.  When one asks why someone is doing something in broadcasting, the answer is almost always "money".  

  It's no secret, The Weather Channel is a private company, The Weather Channel makes money.  Making money is one of their goals, if not their main goal.  Remember, "Thunder-Snow Rocky Cantore", "45 Degree Mike Bettes",  "Torcon Forbes", and "#GonnaNameThoseWinterStormsNorcross" are just meteorologists on The Weather Channel, THEY are not The Weather Channel. (All are fine meteorologists whom have done much to educate and inform the world about weather.) The Weather Channel was founded in 1981 by Frank Batten and my childhood idol John Coleman.  I watched Coleman present the weather in Chicago growing up.  In 2008, the Weather Channel was put up for sale by Landmark Communications.  On July 6th, 2008 NBC Universal, Bain Capital, and the Blackstone Group purchased the Weather Channel form Landmark.  Cantore, Bettes, Forbes, and Norcross work for the Weather Channel.  The Weather Channel is owned by NBC and two private equity groups.  According to Investopedia:

"The majority of private equity consists of institutional investors and accredited investors who can commit large sums of money for long periods of time. Private equity investments often demand long holding periods to allow for a turnaround of a distressed company or a liquidity event such as an IPO or sale to a public company." 

   The Weather Channel could have decided, from day one, to attempt to work hand-in-hand with the National Weather Service, the American Meteorological Society, and the National Weather Association. The decision, at some level, was made not to work with anyone.  All decisions concerning guidelines and implementation would remain in-house.  Ultimately, a finely crafted, multi-layered, television-ready mechanism for naming winter storms would arrive on The Weather Channel, a brilliant move of shameless self-promotion.  They own it, like Bain Capital and The Blackstone Group own The Weather Channel. 

  It is actually quite genius.  The goal here is to get more eyes on The Weather Channel family of broadcast and mobile products.  Once Athena or Brutus is whispered form the lips of Stephanie Abrams, "weatherholics" of The Weather Channel will fill Facebook, Twitter, and every smart phone on the planet with Athena or Brutus statistics.  The Weather Channel "name game" will soar quickly and vastly on the wings of social media with just that initial whisper of "Brutus".  And it won't cost The Weather Channel a cent!  "Sheila, the secretary'", will arrive at work talking about Brutus. "Charlie, the account executive", might get curious enough to watch Cantore play lightning rod during a round of thunder snow, catch Bettes in a howling wind, wearing a set of Weather Channel branded ski goggles, or listen to Norcross pitch "I survived Brutus" t-shirts for $9.99.  The goal is more eyeballs on all The Weather Channel platforms and the "name game" may accomplish just that.


Bryan Norcross seems to be the point man of the project.  The roll-out is systematic and methodical.  It is designed, of course, to garner as much attention as possible.  He is good at this, he worked in local TV for a couple of decades. The Greek and Roman names were issued last week and the criteria for naming winter storms is beginning to trickle out.  On Monday night, Norcross made himself available to James Spann's internet show called WeatherBrains.  Norcross decided to share the criteria for naming storms with the WeatherBrains audience.  They are as follows, as I currently understand them:

-The winter storm will have a significant impact within 72 hours primarily due to ice and snow.
-The winter storm will cause significant disruption to road and air travel.
-The winter storm will creat life threatening conditions due to wind, snow, ice ,or cold.
-Exceptions will be made. (historically significant storms and others)

WeatherBrains Internet Broadcast  (Here is a link to WeatherBrains)

  I think the criteria will favor The Weather Channel naming storms effecting big cities along the eastern seaboard as opposed to small towns in the northern plains.  There are more potential viewers, more eyes, in New York City than in Muscatine Iowa.  Business already has a bias towards big cities.  There is a reason that the New York Yankees always play prime time playoff games while the Cincinnati Reds get shoved to an early or late time slot.  Major League Baseball, like The Weather Channel, is a business.  The criteria are also quite subjective unlike criteria set for tropical storms and hurricanes.  This, in my opinion, will give The Weather Channel great latitude in naming winter storms.

  Most local meteorologists are caught in the middle, how should they play the "name game"?  I believe most NBC affiliate meteorologists will end up using the winter storm names because they are, as is The Weather Channel, part of NBC in one way or another.  Local ABC, CBS, and FOX affiliates will weigh the pros and cons.  My initial reaction is to stay away from any naming system created by The Weather Channel but, again, that's my initial reaction.  There are pitfalls to the system and it could blow up on The Weather Channel but there are a few benefits of the naming system that still have me thinking.  By naming storms public awareness may improve.  A winter storm with a name may be easier for the public to follow.  A name like "Brutus" is easier to use within social media and finally the individual storms may be easier to remember and refer to as time passes.  If you are a local meteorologist, let me know what you think.  My e-mail is DopplerTim@wkrc.com.  I am chief meteorologist at the CBS affiliate in Cincinnati and believe The Weather Channel serves an important role for many viewers across the United States.  The thoughts presented are my own and not those of WKRC-TV.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Deadly Tornado Outbreak 2012

March 2nd, 2012
During the afternoon and evening of March 2nd, 2012 nine tornadoes touched down in the WKRC-TV viewing area.  Tornadoes are rated using the EF scale or the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

  Of the nine tornadoes that touched down, there were two EF's, two EF1's, two EF2's, two EF3's, and 1 EF4 tornadoes.  EF3's, EF4's, and EF5's only make up 5% of all tornadoes that occur.  The three strongest tornadoes hit Holton IN, Piner/Crittenden KY, and Peach Grove KY/Moscow OH. 

Above is what the National Weather Service radar from Wilmington Ohio during the afternoon and evening of March 2nd, 2012.  Tornadic supercell developed across southern Indiana and then moved at 60mph into Northern Kentucky.  These supercells were alive for over 200 miles.  The thunderstorm which created the Holton Indiana tornado spawned a tornado and dissipated shortly thereafter.  Let's look at these three tornadoes, one by one.

The Holton Indiana Tornado EF3
-Time of Initial Touchdown 3:53pm
-Point of Initial Touchdown 1/2 mile SW of Holton
-On the Ground for 9 miles
-Path Width 350 Yards
-Winds 145 mph
-6 Injuries, 2 Fatalities

           Click Image for Tornado Path                                      
   Click Image for Reflectivity                                         Click image for Velocity

The Piner/Crittenden Kentucky Tornado EF4
-Time of Initial Touchdown 4:30pm
-Point of Initial Touchdown I-75 Near Crittenden
-On the Ground for 10 miles
-Path Width 1/2 mile
-Winds 175 mph
-8 Injuries, 4 Fatalities

            Click Image for Tornado Path

Click Image for Reflectivity                                    Click Image for Velocity

This is video shot by Matthew Pickett on I-75 near Crittenden, Kentucky

The Peach Grove KY/Moscow OH Tornado EF3
-Time of Initial Touchdown 4:40pm
-Point of Initial Touchdown Near Peach Grove KY
-On the Ground for 23 miles
-Path Width 1/4 mile
-Winds 160 mph
-3 Fatalities

              Click Image for Tornado Patch

  Click Image for Reflectivity                                            Click Image for Velocity

My Sincere thanks to the National Weather Service in Wilmington Ohio for providing the track maps and radar images.  Below are the Severe Thunderstorm Warnings and Tornado Warnings issued on March 2nd, 2012.