Local News Weather Reporting Needs A Serious Refreshening

Rick Margin
5 min readNov 26, 2023

Let me begin this article with some brief historical context. Beginning in the early 1950’s, the home ownership of the television exploded from 1% in 1948 to 75% by 1955.

The introduction of televised news, weather and sports news turned the radio-centric news reporting business on its head. They needed to hire and train on-camera talent who were comfortable with audio and video media. The same was true for the behind the camera production staff. TV commercials needed to be rapidly produced and required considerably more attention to detail and expense than radio advertising, which was generally narrated cheaply live on-air. And, most importantly, new entertainment programming content needed to be created very quickly to fill roughly 17 hours of on-air time. Very heavy lifting for sure.

Television NEWS had 2 programing responsibilities— local and national news, while weather and sports news were generally treated as local issues.

I’m old enough to have witnessed the evolution of TV in those early pioneering years. I can add a few points to better understand the stereotypes of on-air talent. First, they were essentially all white guys. National and local newscasters were serious, stoic and respected. Sportscasters were always male and sometimes an ex-athlete from a local team. They too projected a thoughtful, but looser image.

The weather guy was the loosest and most unhinged guy because his content was by far the least factual. There were no satellites or computer assistance. So, they relied much more on humor to engage viewers. Here’s an actual 1964 broadcast from WSAV-TV in Savanah, GA.

Fun Facts: The national CBS News program expanded from 15 to 30 minutes per night in 1963, only 2 months before the JFK’s assassination. NBC and ABC quickly followed behind. 17 years later CNN, a just launched cable news network, introduced 24 hour news coverage in 1980. And 2 years later, the Weather Channel was launched. The slow death of the rooftop and rabbit ear TV antennas began, and the cable box era was ushered in.

For younger readers, those are rabbit ears on top of the TV.

Let’s dive into the subject of this article: Local TV weather reporting.

According to National Geographic, “weather is the state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric, pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloud cover. It differs from climate, which is all weather conditions for a particular location averaged over about 30 years”.

So, changes in the weather from one year to another or even 10–20 years, do not constitute changes in climate. Climate is what we should expect based on our normal seasonal climatic patterns and weather is what we actually get. Technology advances in weather detection are used to input climatic deviations to provide a higher degree of future weather forecasting accuracy.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the preeminent scientific and regulatory agency charged with forecasting weather, monitoring oceanic and atmospheric conditions. Their official statement on forecast accuracy reads,

“A seven-day forecast can accurately predict the weather about 80 percent of the time and a five-day forecast can accurately predict the weather approximately 90 percent of the time. However, a 10-day — or longer — forecast is only right about half the time”.

I’ve had the privilege of living in 4 states and traveled extensively in the US. During that time, I’ve observed the evolution of weather forecasting. The current presentation model used by TV weather forecasters is outdated, sleepy and generally unproductive. I’ll use one of my local station’s senior weatherperson’s presentation to exemplify what’s wrong including:

· His on-air time consists of 4 parts including a short teaser in the intro and a second teaser before his segment, his segment and another short reminder at the end of the broadcast.

· Actual time forecasting the future is minimized by his reviewing the current day, where his accuracy jumps not unsurprisingly to 100% every broadcast. So, his presentation is mostly factual until he renders his forecast, which is what most viewers value.

· His weather comparison on something like a seemingly hot temperature day lacks any attachment to the climate. This same point about any of the points regarding atmospheric anomalies including rain, snow, wind, cold temps, etc.

· There’s no disciplined and consistent attempt to educate viewers about the weather vs. climate context.

Here’s how I’d improve their presentation:

· What value do current day weather-casters deliver and is a full-time weather staff necessary? I don’t think so. It’s no secret that digital news is cutting into their local TV and print media viewing audience. Local news sources are all very challenged by their current demographic trends that evidences a steady decline in viewership under 34 years old and should therefore be challenging any unproductive spending.

· Easy-to-read historical weather charts should speak for themselves on subjects like temperature, rainfall, humidity, tides and wind. Frankly, this is all on most viewers cell phone. What’s not on the cell phone is how the current weather trend compares to the relevant climate data. Give viewers something of value.

· Another option might be to utilize a news ticker at the bottom of the screen that runs for the entirety of the broadcast.

· If an important weather event (e.g. hurricane, large snowfall, etc.) is in the near-term forecast, hire a contracted media-experienced local meteorologist for the length of the event.

I’ll leave you with an unusual 5 minute news video which describes John Lennon’s first and only stint as the weatherman on Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV in 1975. The unusual story as described by legendary news anchor and journalist Larry Kane is both succinct and honest. Incidentally, he was the only broadcast journalist who traveled with the Beatles on all their 1964–1965 tour stops as a young reporter and became good friends with them.

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Rick Margin

A curious guy interested in both understanding & writing about meaningful issues. Email @ ric62551@gmail.com. Join in at https://medium.com/@ric625