From Lab to Living Room: OnAir Mets Bridge the Gap
by Mike Eilts, on May 11, 2015 10:23:16 AM
I have spent quite a bit of time watching the local television meteorologists the last few days (as have most of you!) during the severe weather events we have had in Central Oklahoma. As a meteorologist who has been part of the Norman weather community for 30+ years it makes me proud to see how far we have come in providing life-saving information to citizens at large. On the other hand, on social media I constantly see negative comments, statements and jokes about the local television meteorologists. But I am here to tell you, that Mike Morgan, Damon Lane and David Payne all do a particularly credible job in communicating severe weather information to the public. Are they perfect? No. But do they provide a great service to the central Oklahoma community, hell yes! How many of us could be live on air for 5 hours straight, ingesting huge amounts of information from the NWS, storm spotters, etc. and managing storm chasers, on-air presentations, staying cool and relatively calm, and somehow doing that without a break? It is actually quite impressive. They earn their salaries on the few severe storm days that we have every spring.
I have seen a number of studies that show that during benign weather days, over 60% of people get their weather information from apps from national brands, but during severe weather over 90% of people turn to the local television meteorologists because they are local and they trust them.
We in the weather community should all rejoice in what they represent. They are the “tip of the spear” for the weather community, saving lives, communicating weather information that helps people stay safe, and providing assurance to hundreds of thousands of people on a regular basis. They showcase the technologies and severe storms’ knowledge that the Norman weather community has developed over the past five decades.
These television meteorologists’ main tool during severe storms is the dual polarized WSR-88D Doppler Weather Radar which was developed and proven at the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) and is now controlled, operated and continually enhanced by the NWS Radar Operations Center in Norman. The automated software used to detect and nowcast severe storms, tornadoes, hail and flash floods were initially developed at NSSL and have been embedded within the WSR-88D and in private sector television display systems.
Early storm “chasers” from NSSL and from the broader Norman weather community, and large experiments like VORTEX and VORTEX2 led by NSSL, have provided huge gains in knowledge about the structure of severe storms and tornadoes and the knowledge to understand what signatures in Doppler radar are associated with severe weather at the ground. This knowledge is utilized by these meteorologists in real-time during severe events.
Local television is also the primary way that citizens consume Tornado and Severe Thunderstorm Watches produced by the Storm Prediction Center based in Norman and also local warnings produced by the Norman Weather Forecast Office.
And even private sector companies, like our Norman-based company, Weather Decision Technologies, provide mobile apps (News9 Weather App, WeatherRadio and RadarScope), interactive weather maps (iMap), and other tools the television meteorologists use to help pass information to consumers.
I know many television meteorologists from all over the country, and I can tell you that each one of them is extremely passionate about their job. They are visible celebrities in their communities, with large responsibilities during severe weather events and take those responsibilities seriously. They make large investments in infrastructure and planning during the “off season” and then act on those plans during an outbreak.
In Oklahoma City, the three main meteorologists mentioned above have spent their whole careers building their knowledge of severe weather, Doppler weather radar, numerical models, and of course on-air presentation of weather. They provide great value to central Oklahoma, as do other local television meteorologists to their communities all over the United States. In OKC the investment in Doppler radars, on-air presentation capabilities, helicopters, storm chasers, etc. far exceeds other communities. The end result is a service to the society that saves lives and keeps people informed far better than any other medium. We should feel lucky that we are all benefactors of these large investments in our community that help keep us all safe.
About Mike Eilts
Mike and four others founded WDT in 2000 in Norman, Oklahoma. The founders of WDT all came from meteorological research organizations in Norman and WDT continues to maintain relationships with these research organizations to extract new technologies from them. Before founding WDT in April, 2000, Mike was employed with the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) for 18 years, the last 7 as Assistant Director. While at NSSL, Mike managed a Division that grew from 20 to 100 people when he left in 2000. Mike has written over 75 papers in meteorological journals and conference proceedings and is internationally recognized for his knowledge of Doppler radar and its application to precipitation estimation and hydrology, severe weather warning and aviation hazard detection and prediction.