If Twitter is good for anything, it’s the perfect venue to watch a squall unfold.
Ana Kasparian of the The Young Turks‘ generated quite the dustup when she tweeted her surprise that TV and radio stations still commit air time and talent to meteorological coverage.
So, naturally, a lot of people (looks like more 1,000 on the original thread alone) had to claim offense and pushed back, some rather aggressively (not that the always provocative Kasparian needs to be protected).
But Matthew Cappucci, a meteorologist for WTTG(TV) in Washington, took a deep breath and avoided the updraft. Instead he penned, “Here’s How Local TV Meteorologists Can Stay Relevant,” for his Washington Post column. The post’s subhead reads, “Weather apps are becoming pretty good. TV forecasters might think about how to reinvent themselves.”
Cappucci ’fesses up that he contributes to a weather app and continues, “There’s some truth to the uncomfortable point she’s making: Weather apps do a big part of what has historically been a local meteorologist’s job.”
He adds, ominously for the counter-Tweeters, “Weather apps are becoming pretty darn good, and in an era that features machine learning, it won’t be long before weather models and apps eclipse the abilities of human forecasters.”
Local TV meteorologists are facing an identity crisis of sorts. ‘You’ll need us if there’s a tornado’ only works what … once or twice a year? We need to give viewers a better reason to tune in for the other 363 or whatever days a year.Matthew Cappucci
Then he gets to the real nugget: “Then what? As it is, local TV meteorologists are facing an identity crisis of sorts. ‘You’ll need us if there’s a tornado’ only works what … once or twice a year? We need to give viewers a better reason to tune in for the other 363 or whatever days a year. This is especially true for younger audiences who are not in the habit of tuning into local news as their parents and grandparents do.”
It should be pointed out that most people will never encounter an actual tornado, alerted or not. Their real connection to a weatherman might be when snow, ice or heavy rain is approaching. For most, a quick look at the smartphone on a sunny morning alleviates the need to stare at a TV morning show or listen to the radio for several minutes waiting for the weather report.
Weathermen trying to claim that they are distributing life-or-death information on a daily basis are overestimating their own importance in the 21st century.
Weather Patterns Don’t Follow Media Market Limits
Cappucci drops the hammer on those weathercasters: “Weather apps can make down-to-the-mile predictions for a user’s neighborhood, something that is impractical and virtually impossible in the context of a 2-minute, 45-second TV weathercast. I grew up on Cape Cod, and although we were in the Boston TV market, Boston TV forecasts most certainly didn’t apply. The apps beat local TV the majority of the time.”
I recently moved to a “rural” Texas town at the southern end of Tornado Alley. Those big, ugly summer thunderstorms that roll northeastward across the plains and into the Midwest spawning tornadoes spin up in this region. My neighbors are highly attuned to weather.
The weathermen in Dallas and Fort Worth don’t see my weather — since my cells will never hit them, and cells that hit the DFW area are highly unlikely to hit me.
The closer, smaller market, stations in Wichita Falls and Sherman, Texas, and Lawton, Okla., are better… but due to the highly localized nature of thunderstorms and, especially tornadoes, they show a radar and start naming counties and towns. However, by that time, thanks to modern technology, people in those areas are way ahead of them, having already tapped into the radars with their smartphones or computers.
Here’s the other thing: The tornadoes that kill by and large strike at night, when no one is watching TV. Reliance on tornado sirens is crucial in this area.
Cappucci offers a future: “I firmly believe that for the [broadcast meteorology] industry to survive and to serve audiences effectively, we have to be either more or different. Gone are the days of simply putting together a weather forecast and standing between a green screen and a TV camera to present it.”
…To survive and to serve audiences effectively, we have to be either more or different.Matthew Cappucci
And he has suggestions for how to accomplish that. They’re worth a read.
READ MORE: Here’s How Local TV Meteorologists Can Stay Relevant (Washington Post)
What’s the Extended Forecast for Weather Apps?
But getting back to those pesky apps. I initially thought I’d nip over to the Apple App Store and Google Play to document a few of the weather apps. How many could there be?
Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle!
It is an understatement to say that there is no shortage of paid or free smartphone weather apps.
The free ones will provide current weather, a relatively current and zoomable radar along with a weekly or 10-day forecast — what most people are looking for, plus maybe a few other things like pictures or pollen count to supplement the bare necessities.
If you want more you can always upgrade to the premium, ad-free paid version on some of these and get better radar views, more detailed forecasts, storm tracking, etc.
But for the serious weather geek — or someone whose job or life might depend on knowing the current or upcoming weather situation — more expensive and polished paid apps can provide a professional level of detail. We’re talking barometric pressure, wind charts and more, with information and radars coming from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NEXRAD system or a slew of private weather operations and crowdsourced weather stations. (I’m one such weather geek and will be soon sizing up a home weather station to ensure I’m on top of relevant Tornado Alley developments.)
Plus there are weather apps available for Xbox, Apple TV and smartwatches. Those are usually simply lite versions of the smartphone apps. More robust versions of some are also available for PCs. For the weather hound, the apps, with a big screen monitor, make you feel like Joe Weatherman.
Honestly, in 2022, you don’t need a meteorologist to tell you which way the wind is blowing.
But Apps Aren’t the Only Competition
You might not need a meteorologist’s reporting to stay abreast of local or national weather developments, but a significant constituency still rely on (or possibly even enjoy) a good forecast breakdown.
The Weather Channel celebrated its 40th anniversary on the air in earlier in May of this year, proof positive that TV weather still has a place in the App Age.
Owner Allen Media Group celebrated the milestone by launching the Weather Channel en Español, signaling a corporate belief that a desire for televised weather content isn’t going anywhere, even as technology advances and U.S. demographics shift.
Earlier this spring, The Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Battaglio reported that the company had inked a deal with CBS News to provide weather reports for the broadcaster’s AM and PM news. Prior to Byron Allen‘s 2018 acquisition of the service, it had spent nearly four decades under the NBCUniversal umbrella (or some version of it).
Battaglio also noted that cable competitors one-year-old Fox Weather and 60-year-old Accuweather continue to carve out space in the mediascape, both on cable and via their streaming services and apps.
READ MORE: CBS News Partners With the Weather Channel for National Coverage (LA Times)
Emily M. Reigart also contributed to this article.