Joe’s Weather Blog: KC TV stations all work for you (SUN-11/22)

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Good afternoon. The FOX 4 winter weather forecast will be on Wednesday night. As usual I’ll get a blog together earlier inn the day so that you can read the thoughts on the weather team and I’ll also have my platform to expand on my weather thoughts. Last year I wrote about a 3000 word missive…and as usual I was wrong about the snow totals but a significant amount…this year I’m really trying to keep things under 1500 words…I’ll need your luck with that one…maybe a switch that for every word over 1500 I get shocked or something ;)

Forecast:

Tonight: Clear and cool but not as cold as earlier this morning. Our low today was 23°. Tomorrow we should be closer to 30°

Monday: Sunny and milder with highs 55-60°

Tuesday: Windy ad mild with partly cloudy skies. Highs again 55-60°

Wednesday: Gray with potentially some patches of mist or drizzle. Nothing much more than that. Windy again and mild with highs 55-60°.

Discussion:

As far as the weather goes…there are no changes to yesterday’s blog and it’s content. The only question about Thanksgiving is whether or not the front will get here by the time of the Plaza lighting. This will be a powerful shot of November cold. Temperatures will be near or above 60° ahead of the front that drop 20-30 degrees within 1-3 hours behind the front…so the placement of that front will be critical. Rain will be likely and getting heavier regardless of the front location later in the day and into Thursday night. There may have been a 1-3 hour slowdown in the front’s position forecast in today’s data…timing seems to be right around 6PM for KC proper and 7PM for areas on the SE side of KC…but this will change over the next few days…if only we can get the front to slow down another 3 hours…

The main focus on today’s blog concerns a seminar that I went to last week that involved my colleagues at the NWS as well as my colleagues from channel 9 (Neville and Nick) and finally many emergency managers and others who are interested in the local weather community and reporting severe weather. All of us are referred to as the IWT or Intergrated Warning Team. Our goal during these seminars is to work towards better communication within our organizations as well as seeking to better communicate with you at home. The idea is that when there is severe weather threatening…we provide a organized/coherent and understandable message to you so you have confidence to take action when needed.

My colleagues at channel 5 and 41 didn’t attend this particular meeting but they’ve been there in the past and they were there “in spirit” for this meeting…more on that in a minute.

The back story…

About 6 years ago…I think in 2009…many of us got together for the 1st meeting of it’s kind in KC…the 1st IWT meeting. I’m not sure if it was one of the 1st nationwide…but I’m pretty sure it was one of the originals. This actually went on for a couple of days and a variety of things were talked about at great length all with the common thread of better communicating.

I apologize to whomever had this great and yet so simple idea. My friend Tom Wachs, who used to work at Channel 5 and is now in Milwaukee, told me he thought it might’ve originated with one of the local emergency managers at the time…this mystery person’s suggestion: why can’t TV stations use the same colors on their maps and also their “bugs” (the little maps that you see on the side of the screen that are updated when severe weather threatens or is happening)? The idea was so simple…yet was never considered in KC or I believe anywhere in the country until that very moment.

Since I was representing channel 4 at this meeting, I like my colleagues at the other stations who were there just went hmmmmmm.

All the stations were just sort of doing their own thing when it came to map colors. I can’t even remember all the colors that were used  but I’m sure they were as varied as all of the personalities at the different stations. We all made a pledge to at least explore the potential.

To tell you the truth I seriously had my doubts. I didn’t think local stations in a competitive market like KC when it came to weather or news, would really cooperate with each other in this fashion. It’s not that we hate each other…we really don’t. I know I personally get along great with my colleagues at the other stations…so it’s really not that at all. Sure we want to be #1..weather is one of the, if not the, most important part of any local newscast, so sure we want to be the best. Everybody cooperating though for the better good of ALL the viewers in KC as opposed to the individual stations chunk of viewers…like I said…I doubted it would happen.

Well it did and surprisingly it was easier than I thought. After a series of emails between stations in 2009 we ALL came together and agreed on a set of colors for what are considered the BIG 6. The BIG 6 are severe thunderstorm watches/warnings …tornado watches/warnings and flash flood watches/warnings. By presenting a unified approach to the maps that ALL of the viewers see…the goal was and still is, to have YOU recognize what a certain color (even IF you may not be paying 100% attention to what we’re saying on the air) means and how to act when you see 2-3 individual colors on the screen.

Obviously you can see how a unified approach to this would be more beneficial to the viewers overall than a haphazard array of colors from 4 different stations who all do a good job covering severe weather. We all do things a bit differently and after the initial feeling of “will this rob us of our individuality?” passed…things started to come together.

With that said though, even though my colleagues and I were behind this idea…we don’t act independently (we only wish :) ). There are others involved like news directors…general managers…and even graphic artists in some cases. Think of us as meteorologists who are players on a TV baseball team. The GM’s at the local stations would be like Dayton Moore…the news directors would be like Ned Yost…and the graphic artists would be like the baseball statisticians who tell the others where to precisely play (what colors are best) etc. Those are a lot of “other” entities that could’ve mucked up the best intentions. My fear was that the graphic artists were going to be the biggest roadblock in this whole process. They can go on a 30 minute rift about why color x is soooo much better than color y even though I can barely see the difference between colors x and y. They sure can though…trust me.

Well one thing led to another…and surprisingly we call came together pretty easily in 2009 and decided on a uniform set of colors. They may not be 100% perfect but the general idea is. We decided on approximately this color scheme (below) back then. Don’t concern yourselves with the #’s you see below each color. Those are the RGB values and the point of this is to have a unified scheme. Each station has different map terrains that are used and somewhat different colors for the actual radar values that are used so there may be some very minor shade differences…but the general idea is there for you.

Color Table For Big 6

The image above was sent in an email chain recently that all the stations were having…why?

Well we got off the “path” a bit. JD Rudd from channel 41 noticed this especially a few weeks ago when he sent out this tweet.

To be truthful..I did notice the degradation in the colors agreed upon and I was going to bring it up at this seminar…but props to JD who got it out there…because it instantly got the process started behind the scenes so that when the meeting happened all the background work was done and it was a mere formality to re-approve the colors that were formally approved back in 2009. We did have discussions about altering some of the colors behind the scenes to become totally unified with the NWS service colors that they use on their webpage. They also use these colors locally as well on this map and in their social media platforms. The issue we had from a TV standpoint is that some of the colors don’t translate too well on the small “bug/crawl” maps that are on the air for hours on end. The pinks and the bright yellows covering dozens of counties  for hours on end don’t work as cleanly with thin black lines indicating the counties. They tend to “tear” on the screen (look rather jagged) and are different in use on the TV vs on a computer screen. That would then bring another layer of players into the realm…and that would be the chief engineers and trust me you don’t want them involved in this discussion ;).

So what happened between 2009 and a few weeks ago? Did all of a sudden Kansas City TV meteorologists dislike each other…did we all just decide the heck with this…NO.

What happened to muck up the works is that all the stations either upgraded or got totally new graphic systems and weather crawl (bug) systems. When you get a few days of training on said new systems and you really need 2-3 x’s the training that you end up with…let’s just say that things fall through the cracks far too easily while your head is spinning around trying to grasp totally new concepts in such a short amount of time. This turned into one of those things. It wasn’t anyone’s fault really. It probably should’ve been solved faster than it was…but then again I don’t think all of us were looking too hard at what the different stations were doing during any one event or so.

Now you’re saying to yourself…great for KC…what about the rest of the country? Well truly that is up to the TV folks in all the other TV markets in the USA. There are about 210 or so different TV markets out there and perhaps in some areas where severe weather isn’t as common it’s not a pressing need. Here in the Plains though I/we feel it is/was and that’s why we came together and cooperated because in the end, regardless of what TV station you watch…you are our customers…we really serve you. We all have our different personalities on the air and that hasn’t/won’t change because of this.

So there you have it…a little “inside baseball” for you.

Joe

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