As Winter Storm Jonas hits the East Coast, with blizzard warnings from Long Island to northern Virginia, the local TV stations in those markets are balancing providing the necessary coverage and reports and updates while staying safe and warm themselves.
WCBS, the CBS O&O in New York, along with sister station WLNY, are the market’s only stations with a weather service on wheels, the Mobile Weather Lab, which delivers live pictures and hyper-local weather data, says David Friend, news director of the pair and senior VP of news, CBS Television Stations.
The stations, which boast Mobile 2 vehicles with bonded cellular technology as well, will live stream their coverage on CBSNewYork.com and on cell phones and other mobile devices. They will break into regular scheduled programming if need be and have the flexibility to move CBS programming to WLNY and stick with local news on WCBS.
WCBS and WLNY will also be collaborating with the CBS radio stations WCBS 880 and 1010 WINS for live reports. In addition, the New York stations will share reports from the CBS stations in Philadelphia (KYW) and Baltimore (WJZ).
“We have a lot of experience with storm coverage and our employees are well trained when it comes to knowing how to be safe,” Friend says, adding that he recommends people simply stay home Saturday when the storm hits.
When WPIX, Tribune’s CW affiliate in New York, is not in news, it will show extended forecasts with cut-ins every half-hour; the station will likely air additional weekend newscasts depending on the storm’s severity. Coverage is available online with a live stream, featuring news conferences and remote shows, as well as the latest warning and live radar and maps. Coverage across social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat) will be with the hasthag #PIXSNOW. WPIX is asking viewers to send photos and videos with that hashtag to fuel a viewer-submitted photo gallery.
Fox O&O WNYW is the only New York City TV station with its own polarization Doppler radar, says chief meteorologist Nick Gregory. Scanning horizontally and vertically, the Fox 5 Sky Guardian radar offers essentially a 3D scan to differentiate between snow, sleet and rain.
Over in the Philadelphia area, NBC O&O WCAU in concert with Telemundo-owned WWSI — which has the only Spanish-speaking weather anchor in the market — will be giving county-specific weather conditions and deploying speciality equipment vehicles StormForce10 and NewsForce10. All newscasts and weather updates are available live on mobile devices and via digital platforms, while on social media they are using the hashtags #nbc10snow, #T62Nieve and #T62equipo. The stations’ apps include live weather radars and snow totals. In partnership with parent company Comcast, the two stations have free community service “Plug-in, Power up” that lets viewers charge their mobile devices for free at participating Comcast Xfinity stores.
The pair has plans for keeping weather teams safe and warm and is already supplying them extra clothing and hand warmers. “We are as concerned about our viewers as much as we are about our teams in the field,” says a spokesperson for both stations.
Kathy Orr, meteorologist at WTXF, says the Fox-owned station aims to help viewers prepare rather than panic. “The FOX29 management team is so organized, we have been gearing up for this (calmly) since Sunday,” Orr says. “Everyone, from managers, to reporters to our engineering staff and sales department have been ‘in the know’ all week.
Sue Palka, weather anchor at WTTG, noted that the station has been covering Washington, D.C. snowstorms for decades. “I have been here myself for 30 years and that background alone helps me understand and explain in down-to-earth terms what to expect as the storm potentially shuts down the region,” she says. “I believe there is a level of trust with our forecast.”
It’s been “all hands on deck” for “round the clock” online coverage all week, Palka says, as the Fox O&O is working 12 on 12 off shifts. Palka says that she brought a cot to the weather center if she doesn’t want to leave, though the station does have nearby hotel rooms at the ready. Paul McGonagle, VP and news director, says that while their trucks are equipped with mobile camera to go live, the reporters and photographers won’t be tied to the truck.
The station, which is streaming its blizzard coverage on its Fox 5 DC Mobile App, is also interacting on social media 24/7, with multiple video updates a day through Facebook Mentions. Sometimes the updates come from viewers. “Last night when a coating of snow turned the commute into ice, it was our followers on social media who demonstrated first that it needed to be our lead story,” Palka says. She encourages people to have supplemental power for their mobile devices, so they can still get updates if the power goes out.
WRC, the Washington, D.C. NBC O&O, has its Storm Team 4x4 vehicle travelling throughout the area tracking the weather and latest road conditions. Coverage is available online and on the NBC4 mobile app, which features improved weather radar and a new severe notification system for weather. In addition, the station’s meteorologists will be delivering forecasts every 10 minutes on WTOP, Washington’s all-news radio station.