When rain recently persuaded me to switch on my windshield wipers, I had forgotten how weather often impacted my life.
Reading this Tweet reminded me: “Love that taking pictures of wet concrete constitutes news in Phoenix today.
Weather and I have often danced together in the rain, from the hurricanes I covered in North Carolina to standing in a strong Phoenix downpour because it made for a much better live shot.
Covering flooding several days straight in a small Arizona town showed my new co-workers when I started at a Phoenix television station the depth of my creativity for live shots and storytelling.
Weather persuaded me to perform an epic-long live shot as I walked from the very front to the very back of a mobile home, showing damage.
Weather led me, again in the cause for creativity, to walk across a bridge on live TV while traffic passed and snow fell.
Weather ruined a good pair of boots as I stood in knee-high water for a live shot from a flooded apartment parking lot.
After weeks of studying a political race and arriving at election headquarters, weather erased all, sent me to damage and landed me as the lead.
Weather, or a lack of it, led me to call a producer and explain the damage didn’t warrant a story. She ignored my advice and assigned me not one but two reports.
Potential weather sent me to the outskirts of town to cover two stories on snow that never arrived.
Weather that had passed led me to splash my foot in a puddle on TV, later forcing me to realize never again to deliver such a stupid live shot.
We can muddy the waters with philosophy, but broadcast media cover the weather first and foremost because it typically translates into top-notch ratings. The problem is too many TV stations don’t decipher between legitimate storms and a few swaying trees and often insist on drenching us with coverage no matter how many snowflakes settle on the ground. This is similar to the embarrassing relative who is loud and obnoxious no matter if he is in front of a few family members at home or whether he is in public where people stand and stare. He has no filter.
“Weather is a huge part of news wherever you are located,” a Kansas photojournalist told me. “Tornadoes, heat, rain or lack of rain. To me, it’s the same by comparison. Yes, watched by viewers. Gets ratings for sure. They played the same piece on tornadoes four times here and when weather here happens, every reporter is on it.
“Like the world is coming to an end,” said a former Chicago TV news supervisor when I asked him about coverage in his area.
“As for our weather coverage, we definitely focus on severe weather more than you might think for a place that gets a decent amount of rain,” said a former Phoenix reporter now in The Golden State. “But they don’t go nuts for a few drops like some folks at [my former station].
I asked a Michigan photojournalist, “Do Michigan stations over cover the weather?” “Yes” is his final answer.
A former Phoenix reporter now further north told me, “Not quite as aggressive. But when it snows, we do go bat s—t crazy.”
“It’s about the same. [My station] is less obnoxious,” told me a Phoenix reporter who has worked at more than one station in the market.
TV stations cover so much weather, people often advise reporters not to include their awesome weather live shots on their resume tapes. Most reporters have an awesome weather live shot and it won’t usually help distinguish them from the other candidates for a job opening. (I included one anyway. It was really awesome!)
The morning that reminded me of all this, the FOX, NBC and CBS stations each led their noon newscasts with weather, when their live shots showed it was no longer raining.
FOX, my former station, called the morning’s rain a “quick and intense downpour.” Their coverage included a reporter’s live shot, video from a department of transportation camera, additional video of a freeway and a report from the weather forecaster.
The NBC station displayed toward the bottom of the screen a banner “Summer Storms” and checked in with its weather person.
The CBS station took us to a live reporter, where the reporter said there was still a “bit of overcast.” Their banner read “Valley Rain” and also took us to their weather forecaster.
The next time you search for an umbrella and worry how the rain impacts your hair and clothes, remember how rain and its cousins of precipitation make some people go “bat s—t crazy.”