The 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard – Digital Prep

By Andrew Humphrey, CBM
Founder & Co-Chair, DJTF | Meteorologist & Station Scientist, WDIV-TV

Now the Midwest gets a taste of a blizzard before Winter 2010-11 is over, and the largest one of the season is on the way. The soon-to-be 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard is taking shape. As viewers make preparations buying groceries, snow shovels and snow blowers, meteorologists and reporters can prepare for coverage with several digital tools.

The National Weather Service (NWS) is an excellent source for the basic information all weathercasters rely on.  Weather.gov already has a top-of-the-page discussion dedicated to the impending, historic winter storm.  Clicking on “Details…” at the end takes you to a map with winter weather advisories drape over more than half of the states in America.  Several links of the various warning and watches are underneath to take you deeper into the details exact cities and counties covered by them.

Tons of raw weather graphics are located on the NWS site, also.  They may not be fit for broadcast, but they are extremely helpful for looking at where the storm is right now.  Clicking on “Satellite” will show you where its cloudy and where snow and ice may be falling.  To know where precipitation is hitting the ground more accurately, you can click on “Radar” for a national view, then place your cursor anywhere on the map and see a local radar picture with another click.

Once in the thick of this significant snowstorm, gathering weather data from your own viewers is very useful and creates a closer connection between you, your station and them.  The most valuable information includes what is falling from the sky (snow, sleet, rain, freezing rain or a combination), what is on the ground (snow, ice or liquid water) and snow totals (the amount of newly fallen snow and the total amount of snow on the ground).  Other important items include temperature and wind speed to know how cold it is, how cold it feels and whether lack of visibility is an issue.

The traditional means of collecting weather conditions by phone and email are okay but much more cumbersome than the newest methods by social media.  Facebook and Twitter are excellent web sites for transmitting what the weather is like at the station or in the field and for soliciting the weather situation from audience members.  I tweet and update my personal and company Facebook status every morning before I do the weather on Local 4 News Morning whether we have good or bad weather with at least these two questions:  “Where are you?” and “What is the weather where you are?”  At least a dozen viewer responses appear from viewers who are local or elsewhere in the country or the world.  From this, I can direct them (along with the rest of my TV and web audience) to Channel 4 (WDIV-TV in Detroit) or our show’s livestream, which simulcasts the news program on ClickOnDetroit.com.

Snow-covered cars, streets and lawns

In addition, the customary phoners with viewers, road commission officials or any other authorities can be replaced with Skype or other video calls.  In addition to getting verbal information first-hand, the camera on the other end of the line can be used for an impromptu liveshot; peering through windows and doorways to bring precise, real-time weather pictures to families.  Today, my co-anchor Rhonda Walker asked our audience members to email us if they would like to Skype with us when the 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard hits via Facebook.  All of us are eager to see what develops.

Forecasting the scope and impact of a natural catastrophe as soon as possible is and will remain the greatest challenge to weather forecasters everywhere.  The invention the barometer, then satellites, then Doppler radar from the 17th through 20th Centuries gave us an earlier and earlier jump on alerting the public about the danger of imminent disasters.  Now 21st Century inventions and innovations are giving us an even earlier head start.  They are a benefit for this week’s blizzard and any other future calamities, natural or man-made.

Note:  Please try some of the above techniques and comment below on how effective they are.

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