When is a Severe Weather Special Report Really ‘Unnecessary’?


A former colleague of mine posted on Facebook about a viewer’s complaint over a severe weather special report that interrupted her soap opera.

You probably call it a severe weather special report. Those of us who work in TV are more likely to call them “weather cut-ins,” referring to the fact that they “cut into” programming.

Whenever they happen, someone calls to complain.

I’ve found there are five types of programs whose viewers are most likely to call and raise holy hell during such a cut-in:

  1. Soap Operas
  2. Sporting Events
  3. Reality Shows
  4. ‘Star Trek’ (Any iteration)
  5. ‘The Andy Griffith Show’

That last one I can understand. They don’t make shows like that anymore, and the stations that still run that show even on the eve of the 60th anniversary of its premiere know how loyal that audience is.

Of course, I can understand all of them from the perspective of the individual fanbases of each kind of program. Even if I’m not part of some of those groups.

Severe weather can kill.

Severe weather also has the potential to do serious damage to property.

Missing even a single episode of a soap opera or a televised ball game doesn’t have such an impact.

(Though you might have a hard time convincing a fan of this fact.)

Whenever any television station anywhere interrupts programming, their phones begin ringing.

“Why can’t you just say what you need to in two minutes and get off the screen? Why do you have to repeat yourself?”

It’s a reasonable question…for a moment. But if you think about it, you should surely be able to realize that not everyone happens to be tuning in at the same moment you are. People are always switching channels, always joining something in progress. (If you don’t believe me, spend two hours watching TV with my dad: you’ll see bits and pieces of about eight different shows and you may never get back to the one you started on!)

You heard it because you’ve been watching for twenty minutes. But the family across town that just happened to turn their television on hasn’t heard it yet.

“We all know the storm is coming. We can look out the window and see how bad it’ll be.”

No. Everyone doesn’t know the storm is coming. And looking out the window might show you dark clouds, but it won’t show you those telltale signs Doppler radar picks up that shows a tornado might be forming a few miles away and heading your direction.

You might see that tornado coming once it’s on a path for your home. But that’s if you’re looking out of the right window that happens to be facing the right direction.

But by the time you see it coming that close, it’s probably too late for you to take action. (Or, it might be too late for you to take the most effective action you could take.)

“This weather you keep talking about is three counties away from me. I don’t care.”

Unfortunately, a television station’s official coverage area extends past your specific street.

A station’s coverage area could be a few counties or more than a dozen. It depends on population, the size of the area and the strength of the television station’s signal. 

If the severe weather is, at that moment, a few counties away, try being grateful that it’s not impacting you. You might even consider saying a prayer for those it could be affecting. Those folks might appreciate it.

But while a storm is actively moving, the weather staff is definitely going to track that storm and let the next neighborhoods in its path know they need to take cover.

“I’ve gotten the weather alert on my phone. You should stay off the TV.”

Not everyone has a smartphone or a weather radio. TV is their first line of defense.

“You could at least put the weather stuff on your secondary channel and leave my show alone.”

Not everyone has a way to see secondary channels. Not all audience members have digital antennas and cable and satellite companies aren’t required to carry all of a station’s secondary channels. That means some people in the audience may have only a single option from each individual television station: their main channel.

Over the years, I’ve worked with more meteorologists than I could count. At this point, I wouldn’t even try to list them all because I’m sure I’d miss many of them.

What all of them have in common — each and every one — is a desire to not exaggerate any dangers. They don’t want to go on the air unless there’s a legitimate threat.

After all, they know that they’re the ones who’ll be blamed, not those behind the scenes, for the interruptions.

No one wants to interrupt your favorite show. But there are times when it has to happen.

When are those weather bulletins unnecessary?

The answer, I’m afraid, can be very subjective. But when those decisions are being made, they’re generally made by people who actually have meteorological training.

And people who know they’re going to be the face of the inconvenience those whose programs are interrupted will feel.

That should tell you something.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.