How It All Works Together–Part III

This is another in a series of excerpts from my unpublished book INSIDE THE WEATHER CHANNEL.  This particular series details how forecasters, on-camera talent and producers work together–well, most of the time–to get a show on the air.  The show being discussed here is “Your Weather Today” as it was in late 2008.


Forecasters, On-camera Meteorologists and Producers–Tenuous Allies

Lisa Watkins, a gal who put in eight years with the U.S. Navy Reserve, is “Your Weather Today’s” producer.  “The training I received in the military,” she says, “certainly serves me well in the pressure-cooker environment of The Weather Channel.  Out of all of the jobs I’ve had, I would say being a producer here is certainly the most challenging, in every way possible.”  Lisa made her way to the channel via gigs in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, her hometown.

Lisa, with input from the on-camera people, WITs and weather producers, plans the entire show.  She creates a story thread, decides which graphics and videos to use, and writes a script.  She also develops a rundown, a blueprint for how the entire show will play out, step by step.  It’s a time-line of specific directions: which on-camera meteorologist is talking; which camera is being used; which graphics or videos are being keyed in; and when (and if) any remote live shots or phone reports will be inserted.  Then she has to oversee and coordinate all of this from a control room, bringing the rundown to life in the form of “Your Weather Today.”

Mike and Lisa are already at work when I arrive.  Other people straggle in with me.  These include the weather producers.  It’s kind of a funny title since they have nothing to do with, for instance, tipping “over the water jars of the heavens,” sending “lightning bolts on their way” or causing you to “swelter… when the land lies hushed under the south wind.” (The book of Job, in case your were wondering.)  Nope.  Nothing quite so breathtaking or awesome.

Weather producers set up and control the graphics and animations run off a system known as Titan.  The graphics include maps overlain with radar imagery, weather warnings and watches, up-to-the-minute data such as temperatures and wind speeds, or tallies of rainfall and snowfall amounts.  The animations display such things as the expected progress of a storm or front, explanations of what’s causing a certain type of weather or the history of a storm system.

Weather producer is a relatively new job, having evolved only during the past few years.  They’re positions typically staffed by some of the younger meteorologists, as opposed to 20-year veterans, for instance.  There’s Sean Fankhouser, a recent Georgia Tech grad and former member of the Yellow Jackets crew; Dina Knightly, a prior licensed pilot and mother of young twins; and Kevin Roth, a Pennsylvanian who arrived at The Weather Channel via Weather Services Corporation in Massachusetts.

John Erdman is another key weather producer.  John is a native of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, who says “meteorology chose me” after a tornado in 1980 almost turned Beaver Dam into Beaver Flats.  Mike, the executive producer, considers John, who holds a Master’s degree in atmospheric science, to be the archetypical weather producer.

The planning for today’s show actually began 18 hours earlier, immediately in the wake of yesterday’s presentation when producers, weather producers, on-camera personalities and WITs gathered for a short debriefing.  Immediately following the debriefing, there was a discussion of what the headline stories for today were expected to be so production of graphics and animations could get underway   At the end of the meeting, Marshall and Heather took a few seconds to coordinate their wardrobe colors for today.

Now, shortly after 4 a.m., the key players gather for a more in-depth discussion of what’s going to be featured on the show and to get an overview of how it’s going to play out.  When that’s completed, Lisa goes to work on the rundown.

Meanwhile, I begin briefing myself in by examining the current weather situation, studying various models and reading discussions issued not only by Weather Channel forecasters but also by various NWS offices around the country.  As needed, I’ll review material available from the National Hurricane Center, the Storm Prediction Center (regarding severe weather) and the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (dealing with precipitation and extended-range outlooks).

More of this series will follow.  In the meantime, for those of you open to such greetings: a heartfelt
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Photo: Lisa Watkins, Weather Channel producer.
Lisa was the producer of “Your Weather Today” in late 2008, the time frame being discussed below.

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