Improved Storm TrackingIs High on NAB Radar

Streamlining solutions, better graphics among product upgrades at show
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With advanced weather technologies becoming increasingly important contributors to competitive local newscast ratings, next month’s National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas promises to be a high-pressure area for meteorologists.

For starters, this NAB show will be the first since the National Weather Service began deploying new dual-polarization radar systems last year. “It will provide much more data for the meteorologist to work with,” notes Ardell Hill, president of broadcast operations at Baron Services, which was awarded the contract by the National Weather Service to install the new radar system in 171 locations. About 44 were installed by the end of February.

The new systems are allowing meteorologists to see the debris from tornadoes in some storms, which provides confirmation that the tornado has touched ground. “It allows you to see things within the storm you couldn’t see before,” says Bill Baker, president of Weather Central. “You can now see whether it is snow or hail or raindrops.”

As a result, Baron Services, Weather Central and other major providers of weather systems have been upgrading to help TV stations take advantage of the new capabilities.

“The challenge for the meteorologist is having time to study all the new data that is available and to find the best ways to display it,” Hill says. “So we have been focusing on developing new display capabilities and algorithms to make it easier to use and display all that information.”

Solutions to streamline the delivery of all this information and weather coverage to multiple platforms will also be a major focus at NAB. “Stations have struggled in the last few years to efficiently deliver content to all these digital platforms, Web and mobile,” notes Bill Dow, general manager, media division at WSI, a unit of Weather Channel. “And now they also have to address social media, where their audiences can go to get a lot of news and weather information.”

To help stations overcome that challenge, WSI has introduced Max Social, which the company will be highlighting at NAB. “During severe weather a meteorologist will be very busy, and it is difficult for them to engage with viewers on all these platforms,” Dow says. “Max Social allows them to get content up and out quickly to social media while they provide lifesaving information on the main channel.”

Weather Central, which first introduced social media tools to its weather system in 2009, will also be rolling out new social media capabilities at this year’s NAB, Baker says.

But the biggest focus for most vendors remains the development of tools for higherquality graphics and on-air coverage. Here, one notable development has been the growing popularity of touch screens, which have dropped dramatically in price.

“Audiences are used to having a very interactive conversation on social media, and broadcasters are looking for ways to bring that type of interactivity into the newsroom,” says R. Lee Rainey, AccuWeather VP of marketing.

To help meet that demand, AccuWeather recently introduced its StoryTeller interactive touch screen system. “It allows stations to take graphics from our CinemaLive [weather graphics solution] and data from a wide variety of other applications we offer for weather, sports, news and elections,” Rainey says.

During a fire, for example, users can call up 3D graphics of buildings and the street-level view of the building. “It is a very quick way to get on the air before a reporter gets on the scene,” Rainey explains.

Technologies for alerting viewers to impending storms and severe weather via apps or other mobile solutions will also be highlighted at NAB. WSI, for example, will be upgrading its weather interactive maps to handle HTML5, which will allow the maps to be displayed on iPads. The company is enhancing the functions of its mobile apps to make it easier for stations to monetize them with sponsors, says Jim Menard, VP and general manager of digital initiatives for WSI.

Meanwhile, Baron Services has been rolling out a SAF-T-Net emergency alert system in Alabama free of charge that can send out targeted alerts via text messages, email or phone. Recently, Raycom Media became the first TV station group to join as a media partner to help promote the free service.

“It is a very powerful tool for meteorologists to alert those who are directly in the path of the storm,” Hill says.

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