New York Stations Left Holding Empty Weather Bag After Storm

By Kevin Eck 

After the New York stations returned to regular programming this afternoon, fingers began pointing at meteorologists both local and national trying to figure out why The Great Blizzard of 2015 turned into just another snowstorm.

Given the looks of the preparation put into team coverage of the weather event, WCBS, WABC, WNBC and WNYW all looked like they were counting on a big story and big viewership. But what happens when that story doesn’t happen and you have twenty odd reporters standing around city streets looking for something to report?

WCBS_01-27-2015_11.49.26In one case, WCBS’ Diane Macedo was looking for people bringing sleds into Central Park. At the urging of the anchors, she found a guy carrying a snowboard. While WNBC kept cutting to Tracie Strahan driving around the city’s boroughs showing the snow covered streets through a camera mounted to the news car’s dashboard.

As The New York Daily News points out, when disaster strikes, there is no better place to find information than local TV. But when it doesn’t happen, the stations open themselves up to criticism about the media blowing things out of proportion.

Television’s primary problem with severe weather, ironically, is that it has been too successful in making itself the place to which viewers automatically turn.

The fascination of viewers with weather was reflected Tuesday when channels 2, 4, 5, 7 and 11 – plus, of course, New York 1 – blew out their lucrative regular programming all morning, including “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show,” to keep up a continuous cycle of forecasts and on-site weather updates.

Naturally this saturation coverage produced some amusing moments.

On Monday night, Tim Fleischer of Ch. 7 asked the camera to sweep around Times Square so you can “see all the traffic that isn’t here.”

Reporters also can start to run low on different ways to report largely the same information. Vanessa Murdock of Ch. 2 reported Tuesday morning that the driveways in Westhampton weren’t “getting a lot of love,” meaning they hadn’t yet been shoveled.

TV news directors will tell you, however, that they keep up these rotating reports because viewers want them. Mundane as they may seem when the winds aren’t howling and the snow isn’t blowing, they deliver information.

They also, however, send the unmistakable message that TV has a big investment in weather.

When every local newscast on Monday night blew out almost every other story to focus on weather, and when phrases like “historic blizzard” permeated the coverage, that said TV had placed its chips on this turning into something major.

That sense was visually reinforced by loud, bold on-screen logos. Those logos were still in place in the 8 a.m. hour Tuesday, even as Gov. Cuomo was saying most of the area got away pretty easy.

Ch. 2: “Blizzard 2015.”

Ch. 4: “Storm Team 4 Blizzard 2015.”

Ch. 5: “Blizzard Warning.”

Ch. 7: “Accuweather Blizzard Alert.”

Ch. 11: “Blizzard 2015.”

These weren’t lies. There had been a blizzard in some places and it was ongoing in others.

But most viewers by then knew the only blizzard in their neighborhood was at Dairy Queen. So it’s not hard to see why there would be some conversation about sensationalizing.

It’s a dilemma for TV programmers. When the weather is what viewers are talking about, they can’t ignore it. They don’t want their station to have missed the big one.

The problem is that no matter how hard the professionals try, nature just isn’t very good at following a script