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What I Learned From The AMS Broadcast Conference, And Why You Should Go To The Next One

In late August I had the chance to drive down to Boston for the 40th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology hosted by the American Meteorological Society. The last time I had been there was 2004 in pre-Katrina New Orleans, and I was interested in seeing what was new. Since then, I had started teaching broadcast meteorology at Lyndon State College, and offered to speak about the challenge for recent college grads seeking their first entry-level job. You can check out the audio and slideshow of my presentation here. The AMS Broadcasters Conference is great opportunity for broadcast meteorologist to come together from all over the county to discuss the state of the industry and learn about what might be coming next. Here are a few of the main themes I took away from the three-day event:

Workloads are increasing for everyone. It’s a different landscape than what was out there at my last conference in 2004. Local news is producing more broadcasts, and social media has made the meteorologist a 24-hour source of weather information. It used to be a 6pm and 11pm news, and the occasional phone call from a viewer or two. Now, we are pretty much on all the time. Between the extra broadcasts and the constant tweeting and posting, there isn’t a lot of downtime, especially in the afternoon. Sites like NOAA and Climate.org are creating ready-to-air products that you can ingest right into your weather computer for broadcast.

Dan Dowling presenting at the AMS Conference in Boston.

I think this new workload has created a need for more entry-level mets to come in and help with the workload, which is good for recent grads. Weather teams are gradually getting bigger at some stations, while sports departments are gradually getting smaller. We can expect the change to continue, at least as much as it has in the past few years, and the meteorologists with the best skill-sets will have the best chance to fill in future openings.

WSI acquiring Weather Central will change the way we think about weather graphics. Everyone was talking about the big merge, which happened just two weeks before the start of the conference. There are tons of mets who use Weather Central who love it, and probably just as many people on the side of WSI. As the two biggest names in weather graphics now become one, I got the sense that eventually we’ll all be working with the same box of crayons. In the past, “weather wars” were fueled by the arms race in technology. It was who had the biggest Doppler radar, or who had the latest storm sniffing software. It’s how promotions departments set you apart from the station down the street. Now, as the playing field levels, you’ll start to see that mentality shift. Perhaps the focus will shift to the weather team and what you can do better. It won’t be about the hardware, but what you can do with the hardware that will set you apart. I’ve always enjoyed being the only station in the market using WSI, but as my friends in town eventually shift over in the coming years, I think it will just motivate me more to come up with something bigger and better. I’m sure they’ll be eager to do the same.

The AMS wants broadcast meteorologists to talk more about climate. There was definitely a push at the conference to talk more about climate and climate change. It was interesting to see a talk from WLTX meteorologist Jim Gandy on how he’s embraced the discussion and how he works to make it part of his weathercasts. You can view many of the segments on the station’s website and learn more from his blog. They say that viewers trust meteorologists when it comes to talking about climate science. As meteorologists continue to take on the “station scientist” role, I think you’ll see an increase in many topics that push the boundaries of the seven-day-forecast, from astronomy, seismology and climatology. It made me feel that I need to refresh on my earth science background, but I got the impression that NOAA is more than willing to step up and deliver the resources to get mets going.

So I ended up learning a ton from my experience at the AMS Conference this year. I think the crowd consisted mainly of chief meteorologists who probably get to go to these events every year, and young, up-and-coming meteorologists who are looking to network and get their foot in the door. Not fitting into either of these categories, I felt fortunate to be there, and am grateful to the AMS for allowing me to present. If an AMS conference comes close to you, and you are a year or two away from graduation, attending would be a great experience for you too. You’ll meet many kind and knowledgeable mets who would be happy to answer your questions, and you’ll learn a boatload from the presentations. The broadcasters conference will be in Nashville in 2013, and in Atlanta in 2014. Hopefully, I’ll get to go back soon as well.

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