Weather Channel in overdrive with non-stop broadcasts

Ms Nora Zimmett, senior vice-president of programming for the Weather Channel, at work in Atlanta on Friday as Hurricane Irma approached Florida.
Ms Nora Zimmett, senior vice-president of programming for the Weather Channel, at work in Atlanta on Friday as Hurricane Irma approached Florida.PHOTO: NYTIMES

ATLANTA • For most viewers, the Weather Channel is a utilitarian network, a quick stop on the basic cable line-up to check the day's forecast.

Best known for delivering local weather updates every 10 minutes, it competes for attention with programming as diverse as cooking shows and Game Of Thrones.

But as a pair of historic hurricanes disrupt large portions of the United States, the Weather Channel has never been more relevant, or more energised.

For weeks now, the Atlanta network has broadcast live non-stop, first as Hurricane Harvey inundated Texas, and now as Irma menaces Florida. Roughly 70 reporters and producers are in the field, and many employees have all but moved into the company headquarters.

"They're the only broadcast entity that's covering a Harvey or an Irma 24/7," said Mr J. Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences programme at the University of Georgia.

Ratings bear this out. The Weather Channel averaged nearly 1.3 million viewers during prime time over the first half of last week, up sharply from an average of 150,000 viewers during the last week of July, when the weather was not a story, according to Nielsen.

"People are tired," Ms Nora Zimmett, senior vice-president of programming, said on Friday. "But there is an adrenaline that comes with an event like this."

As the day went on, it became clear that Atlanta would likely get hit, too. In preparation, backup generators and batteries had been tested and fuel tanks topped off. A satellite truck was standing by in case the generator failed. At nearby hotels, 75 rooms had been booked in case staff could not get home. And 100 air mattresses were at the ready for anyone who needed to sleep in the office.

"The storm is coming to the Weather Channel," said Ms Zimmett.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2017, with the headline 'Weather Channel in overdrive with non-stop broadcasts'. Print Edition | Subscribe