While English is a popular language in these parts, I’d argue that the native tongue in New England is weather. The Pilgrims probably had a few choice words for the conditions they were greeted with in 1620, and we’ve been sitting at dining room tables and on front porches talking about the weather ever since. It’s one of the few things that every single one of us deals with each day. And the conversation starter? Your local meteorologist.
When I recently asked the question “Why do you watch TV over using an app?” on Twitter, the deluge of responses gave a clear answer: The relationship built between the meteorologist and the viewer is a strong one. Viewers tune in for insight. They want explanations for the whats, whys, and wheres of weather. They value experience and the ability to comb through reams of information and boil it down to three minutes. They want to understand the context of our always intriguing weather and what truly constitutes a rare or memorable event. This is a conversation you could start with an app, but that’s likely to be a one-sided chat.
By the way, we’re not just TV meteorologists anymore. We’re bloggers. We’ve become social media gurus. We’re live streamers. The traditional TV meteorologist retired long ago and isn’t coming back — you cannot survive without reaching your audience where they are. Arguably, this has made the job that much more valuable and enjoyable. Few things make me as happy as waiting for viewers to send photos of sunsets, rainbows, storm clouds, or ISS flybys. There are so few experiences in life we all share together any more —
Our conversations about the weather are also deepening. The TV meteorologist is often referred to as the station scientist. We study astronomy, botany, oceanography, geology, and chemistry. For many, the TV meteorologist is also your go-to earth science representative. My inbox fills daily with questions on gardening, meteor showers, fishing patterns, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. I’m more than happy to answer them.
To answer questions like “Why is the weatherman always wrong?” would require another article and a stiff drink. Instead, let’s talk about why weather apps give terrible forecasts — much worse than anything you’re going to get on TV. The reason is quality control. Most apps are pure computer modeling that no human has seen or corrected.
It is agonizing to hear people tell me an app gave them bad advice. The app didn’t study weather. It doesn’t weigh options. It doesn’t have pattern recognition. It is black and white, when we all know the weather is shades of gray. The idea that people change plans based on a snow or raindrop icon is preposterous in an age when weather information and forecasts have never been better. An app can be a convenient tool on top of a full, reasoned forecast — but not as the sole source of information.
And where do you turn when severe weather — blizzards, floods, or heat waves — approaches? The meteorologist. When that kind of weather looms, an app will not help you. It won’t explain how a storm surge from a hurricane will inundate a neighborhood, and what communities are most vulnerable. It cannot give second-by-second updates on a tornado ripping up a town, and where it’s going next. It cannot tell you about how a river level is rising and how to evacuate.
Accurate communication is why many fewer people are being killed by the elements than ever before. Issuing warnings and sharing critical reports as storms do their worst means more people can stay out of harm’s way. The key is a personal connection, a professional telling you what to know and how to stay safe.
In short, the people who continue to tune in are the same that will read this article. They are information-seekers. They’re the ones who want something more than “10 percent chance” or a partly cloudy icon. The audience for personalized weather reporting isn’t the same as it was 40 years ago. But curiosity and enthusiasm for the inner workings of our natural world aren’t disappearing. As long as they live on, I’ll see you every evening to talk about the weather.
Read why the age of TV weathermen is over here.
Eric Fisher is the chief meteorologist at WBZ-TV in Boston.