My career began covering a major flood. I was a one man band, standing knee deep in floodwater, sandbagging in between shooting packages. I also learned how the power of video combined with a knowledgeable meteorologist can captivate audiences.
Then, through the years, came tornadoes and hurricanes and massive snow and ice storms. I produced newscasts through it all watching, and when I could, helping meteorologists explain what happened. Over the years I worked with some big names in the biz. They all had several characteristics in common that made them among the best at what they do:
- An unending hunger to learn more about the area in which they worked
- Great talent for boiling down conditions and clearly explaining impact
- The ability to make weather coverage interesting even when the skies are sunny and clear
- A drive to improve each day
- Lots of volunteer work in their community
The thing that struck me the most watching these incredible meteorologists over the years was their unending hunger to learn more about the area they covered. These meteorologists were always looking over maps from past to present, researching and looking for trends and coordinating with the local weather service. They never tired of looking for a new nugget of information about the area.
When severe weather struck, these meteorologists could boil down what was happening in clear terms. They explained what was happening without using a lot of extra adjectives. They didn’t pass judgment on a storm’s potential impact. In other words, they didn’t say things like “this is going to be a scary one folks.” They would just say, “Now is the time to take cover. Bring your TV or turn on a radio if you can. We will tell you when it is safe.” These meteorologists knew which schools were on spring break, or when kids would be at a bus stop for each section of the DMA. They were walking encyclopedias of the outdoor recreation areas, even able to casually mention specific places to take cover. They could talk about how deep a mark you needed to claim hail damage on insurance and other little tidbits you needed to know. They truly came across as a friend and confidant that would never lead you astray.
I truly enjoyed working with these meteorologists on sunny days. They still made their weathercasts interesting with those tidbits of information. They educated on cloud types, topography, or what local weather watchers might find interesting in the coming days. You learned a little something every time they spoke. These true experts made weather teases easy to write. Most were also not in it for the “face time.” If there wasn’t much to say and no interesting weather video to discuss, they came to me saying “let’s cut back the time.”
The most interesting trend I noticed over the years though, was how they took sunny days to work on their on-air performances. One would come sit with me to talk about how I wrote news copy and why I used certain phrases. Many would review tape of recent severe weather and critique themselves. (to learn how and why to do this check out our previous article: “Humble pie; why a slice of self-examination can change your career”) Sometimes I was called into the weather center to discuss what we could have done better. We would sit and brainstorm and make plans to implement before the next storm hit. These meteorologists truly managed all aspects of weather coverage.
Finally, these meteorologists all had an intense sense of community. They truly felt like civil servants to the families that watched them. Many routinely went to schools to give talks and volunteered at various charities. Their commitment to the community was inspiring. On the days that severe weather struck, the example they set made us all want to perform even better at our jobs. We did not want to let these weather experts down. They set a standard that guaranteed your newscast would be worth watching.