“How can I be better than a weather app?” Rob Carlmark, meteorologist at KXTV in Sacramento, told me a few years ago that he asked himself this question each day as he prepared his forecast. Carlmark was prescient. Now that the current temperatures, highs and lows, and five-day forecast are always just one smartphone finger-tap away, local meteorologists and their news managers must earnestly ask: What is the future of local weather on local news?
I got the chance to hear the current best thinking on that question at the 100th annual conference of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), including an all-day track dedicated to the present and future of broadcast meteorology. The key takeaways are relevant not only for TV forecasters but also for broadcast news leaders charged with forecasting the future of their weather coverage. Spoiler alert: the future of local weather is inseparable from climate coverage. Here’s why.
The Local Forecast is No Longer Enough
The data doesn’t lie. As local TV news viewership has slowly but steadily declined, the local weather segment has endured as the most ‘must-see’ aspect of many local newscasts. Research by media consultants and by Pew Research shows that local weather is the most valued topic covered by local newscasts.
It might be tempting to stop right there. Thanks for watching, goodnight. But it would be perilous to take this narrow view. Zooming out reveals that audiences are increasingly able to meet their local forecast needs via always-on digital devices,