Weather of course drives local news ratings like nothing else, and it moves the national needle too, much to the lament of Andrew Tyndall, TV news analyst. To be sure, a severe winter storm is a big deal, and news gatherers often do heroic work to keep people safe. But Tyndall argues that national networks covering weather is a waste of time. “It’s always been considered a local story, and they make it into a national story,” he says. “There’s no logic whatsoever in having a forecast in a national newscast.”
The national nets are all over this one. On CNN.com around 2 p.m. ET, the headline is “Shovel, Shiver, Repeat,” with the term “crippling blizzard” just below it. Over on FoxNews.com, it’s “…And So it Begins”, with “life and death blizzard” below the hed bearing down on “tens of millions.”
MSNBC.com, meanwhile, mixes politics and weather with its lead story. “I Gotta Go Home,” the headline reads, quoting a Chris Christie tweet related to the weather.
In the broadcast world, ABCNews.com has “Everything You Need to Know About Weekend Snowstorm” as a lead story, NBCNews.com has “Millions in Path of Blizzard Barreling Up East Coast,” with “MONSTER STORM” in surprisingly small letters below that.
CBSNews.com, for its part, takes a historical approach: “Massive blizzard could be one for the record books,” goes the headline.
The biggest proponent of severe weather coverage on broadcast, Tyndall says, is ABC. “[NBC’s] Brian Williams was very into weather, but David Muir has leapfrogged over him,” says Tyndall. On the cable side, he says it’s CNN. “It’s because they lean less on politics,” he says. “Not because they’re more into weather.”
While news outlets have always been chided for overblowing severe weather, particularly winter weather, Tyndall says it’s gotten worse the last three years. He says the popularity of small portable cameras, be it a dashboard cam or GoPro, has given news gatherers too much juicy tractor-trailor-skidding footage to not share with the viewing public.
Accuweather is predicting 1-2 feet for Washington and Baltimore, 12-18 inches in Philly and 8-12 inches in New York. Expect the weather to lead the evening newscasts this eve, with live cut-ins likely too. Cable news will be out in force as well: FNC reporter Abby Huntsman will provide live updates throughout the storm from La Guardia Airport in New York, while co-anchors Elizabeth Prann and Leland Vittert go live from Washington Saturday.
Oh, and Tyndall has one more gripe about TV weather coverage—what he calls the “decoupling” of severe weather coverage and climate change. “[Climate change] should be the third paragraph of every weather story,” he says.
Earlier this week, scientists reported that 2015 was the warmest year on record, topping 2014. The reasons why the networks don’t talk up climate change as they’re reporting on extreme weather? They’re afraid of being painted as the liberal media, Tyndall says: “They’re afraid of Republicans.”