Weathercasters Seek a New Reality

OTTAWA—The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season will be “below-normal” in terms of storm activity. But weathercasters who cover North America’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts are taking no chances and are marshaling the latest in high-tech graphics for this year’s hurricane season, guided by an emphasis on clear, concise weather predictions.

Dr. Forbes shows real-time data using augmented reality, pulling data from Max Reality.

The Weather Channel is taking its viewers inside 3D models of this year’s hurricanes, using WSI’s “Max Reality” augmented reality software that allows the network to create realistic, miniature 3D weather systems that appear to exist in real-time within TWC’s studios. The weatherperson can walk around and interact with the AR graphic; apparently taming a tornado into a manageable in-studio companion.

TWC’s AR system uses Ncam Technologies’ Ncam Live tracking cameras to monitor the on-air talent’s location in real-time. “Our system mounts an Ncam Camera Bar onto each camera,” said Nic Hatch, CEO for Ncam, a U.K.-based provider of camera tracking technology. “The Camera Bar uses a stereoscopic lens system, plus a number of on-board sensors, to track the camera’s location and field of view in 3D.” The Ncam Camera Bars feed this locational data to the WSI Max Reality software to ensure that the 3D graphic is properly placed and framed within the live shot. Ncam does this without requiring visible markers in TWC’s studio, making it possible for WSI 3D graphics to “exist” within the studio space.

“Augmented reality takes the viewer right inside the weather to give them a more accurate picture of what is happening,” said Freddy Flaxman, senior vice president and chief operating officer for TWC. “Using the Ncam tracking system and WSI’s Max Reality, we will be able to give audience an unprecedented look inside hurricanes.”

“Our goal is to provide a unique on-air experience to help hold the audience longer,” said Bill Dow, GM/vice president of WSI’s Media Division. “64 percent of people within our research group told us that they would watch the weather longer if AR was coming up in the next segment.”

WZVN-7, the ABC affiliate in Naples, Fla. has deployed the latest version of Baron’s Hurricane Index during this year’s hurricane season. “We use the Baron Omni graphics display system for our television broadcasts,” said John Patrick, WZVN’s chief meteorologist. Adding the new Baron Hurricane Index will give WZVN “a color-coded graphic that takes into consideration sea surface temps, wind shear, dust concentration and a few other factors to determine favorable areas for tropical development,” he said. “This, coupled with other tropical products, enable us to share our knowledge of tropical weather with viewers in a way that is easy for them to understand.”

WOFL-35, a Fox O&O in Orlando, Fla., also relies on Baron weather graphics. “The new Saharan Dust Concentrations graphic makes it easy for people to see how the heat, dry air, and dust that comes to us from the west of Africa can generate hurricanes,” said Glenn Richards, WOFL’s chief meterologist. “Baron’s 3D KML [key markup language] satellite weather photo files, which overlay on top of Google Earth, also allows us to show our viewers what is happening in a very clear yet detailed fashion.”

Is Your Weatherperson Truly Qualified?

WJZY Chief Meteorologist Rob Eicher is the current chairman of the AMS Board of Broadcast Meteorology. When it comes to TV weather forecasters, WJZY Chief Meteorologist Rob Eicher is truly qualified, with peer-reviewed certifications from the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the National Weather Association (NWA). Earning AMS and NWA certifications requires TV meteorologists to have their weather knowledge and on-air presentations evaluated by AMS/NWA-accredited broadcasters. Such is Eicher’s commitment to excellence in TV weathercasting, including keeping up with the latest in weather forecasting techniques and technology, that he has risen to become Chairman of the AMS Board of Broadcast Meteorology.

“The AMS and NWA processes make it possible for TV stations to certify and promote the fact that their meteorologists truly know what they are talking about,” said Eicher. “But these certifications are completely voluntary, as are any other qualifications achieved by TV meteorologists. And that’s a problem, according to Eicher. “There are no mandatory qualifications to do weather on TV,” he said. “Anyone can claim to be a meteorologist, and do so without any knowledge at all.” TV stations who have certified meteorologists are easy to spot: Their weatherpeople have the letters “AMS” and “NMA” after their names; such as WZVN’s John Patrick and WOFL’s Glenn Richards. “I’m extremely proud to have earned the AMS Certification and NWA Seal of Approval, the two highest standards of excellence for broadcast meteorologists,” said Patrick. “[I am also proud] that WZVN displays the WeatheRate seal, which TV stations earn when they are proven most accurate in their market." Savvy TV stations know the marketing value of having properly certified meteorologists on staff. This is why WOFL’s web page describes Richards as receiving his B.S. degree in meteorology from Northern Illinois University, and then working as chief meteorologist at WLFI-CBS and WFTV-ABC “until making the change to WOFL-Fox as the Chief Meteorologist in 2003.” So while it is true that anyone can do the weather at your station, it makes sound business sense to use trained, AMS/NWA-certified meteorologists than someone who has just come out of broadcast school, or has been hired primarily for their looks. “You need a license to cut someone’s hair, yet there is no requirement of any kind for someone to provide potentially lifesaving information during a weather emergency,” Eicher observed. “I think the value of the AMS/NWA certification programs is that they fill the void [for TV station owners] between not having any credentials and not necessarily wanting a legal requirement to be a meteorologist.” - James Careless

These satellite photos are due to improve substantially in 2016, after the launch and activation of NOAA’s new GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite- R Series) satellite. “Right now, the photos we receive from the current GOES satellite are one pixel per 4 kilometers,” said Rob Eicher, chief meteorologist with WJZY-46, the Fox affiliate in Charlotte, N.C. “GOES-R will take this resolution down to 500 meters per pixel.” As well, the current GOES images only update every half hour. GOES-R images will update as often as every 30 seconds, “allowing us to show the rotation of the hurricane clouds in greater detail,” Eicher said.

For TV stations wanting to move away from the traditional green screen, AccuWeather’s StoryTeller interactive touchscreen system combines the company’s proven weather product/graphics with an 84-inch touchscreen 4K monitor to create “MinuteCast.” “Basically, MinuteCast allows a weatherperson to control and switch their on-screen graphics on air as easily as if they were using an iPad,” said Daniel Despot, AccuWeather StoryTeller’s product manager. “You can also use the system for all aspects of your newscast; not just weather.”

Advances in TV weather graphics notwithstanding, broadcasters in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions are most focussed on keeping their hurricane coverage clear and concise. “Viewers are most interested in the 3-5 day projection cones and paths provided by NOAA,” said Aliana Perez, weather producer at WPLG-10, the ABC affiliate in Miami. “These graphics, plus predictions in straightforward language, is what our viewers count on.”

“Augmented reality looks really impressive, but our emphasis right now is on using our current graphics and Doppler radar system to best advantage,” said David Nussbaum, meteorologist at WWL-4, the CBS affiliate in New Orleans. “What our viewers want to know is what the predicted hurricane track will be and how it will affect them. This has been the case for years, even before Hurricane Katrina. That’s what WWL-TV will be giving people in New Orleans this hurricane season.”

James Careless

James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.