Long Live the Weather Anchor

With the internet and smart phones, people are finding less reasons to watch local news each and every night.

But, when a storm like Florence makes her way to shore, the local weather people show why they are still a viable commodity.

As Florence was shaping up to be a once-in-a-generation storm, and for Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the forecast just kept getting worse.

At WMBF chief meteorologist Jamie Arnold and his team pored through National Hurricane Center updates and dug into computerized weather simulations to predict the hurricane’s impact.

Arnold went on the air to detail the latest—and then online to field questions from social media followers: Where will the flooding be worst? When will the roads be safe? Should my family stay, or should we go? Arnold encouraged followers to consider the worst-case scenario and to act soon.

“It’s times like this when I feel we’re not just a news service but when we’re potentially sending out life-saving information,” Arnold tells CJR. “This is when we really become a part of the community.”

“There’s no question local weather is one of those things that remains essential,” says Kristen Hare, a local news specialist at the Poynter Institute. Apps and technology can tell us a lot, she explains, but they can’t guide us through situations that threaten our personal safety, like a hurricane, with the degree of clarity and compassion that local meteorologists bring.

“We trust our local broadcasters because they’re a part of our community, they’re going through the storm, too,” says Karen Goodwin, a 65-year-old Myrtle Beach resident. “They’re down-to-earth and tell it like it is.”

Scott Dean, chief meteorologist at WWAY in Wilmington, North Carolina, says that in a hurricane, social media can be an excellent resource for people who lose power. It also enables users to send journalists snapshots and videos from far-flung areas, which help meteorologists check and update their analysis—a constant process during crisis events.

“Our plan is to go into lockdown mode at the station and to continue coverage until the threat has passed,” Dean says. “We feel that’s our obligation to the viewers.”