What is in this article?:
- Storm chasing technology gaining favor with viewers
- An extension of the promo department
For local stations, getting as close to the “action” as possible has meant improved ratings and more accurate storm coverage.
An extension of the promo department
E-N-G Mobile Systems is another veteran company that builds newsgathering vans and retrofitted SUVs. It recently finished a weather van for KOVR-TV, the CBS affiliate in Sacramento, CA. The state-of-the-art technology inside the Toyota Sequoia includes a full-scale weather station and a rooftop mounted LED crawl that displays breaking weather information in real time, and a new Xtender antenna from LiveU helps improves bonded cellular reception. (KOVR’s new weather truck will be on display at the NAB Outdoor/mobile area; booth #OE820.)
“Weather vans are an extension of a station’s promo department and really add to the value of a newscast,” said Rex Reed, Director, Business and Product Development at E-N-G Mobile Systems, in West Grove, PA. “I think stations are being very competitive and adding new technology to cover the news when it makes sense. That being said, if you want high-quality images on-air, there will always be a need for a satellite truck on-site to support these weather vans (and cellular transmission technology). They can't do it all.”
Live coverage on the go
Of course, no network or channel is perhaps better versed in weather coverage than The Weather Channel. Over the past five seasons, host Mike Bettes and the “Tornado Hunt team” has traveled more than 100,000mi in search of tornadoes and other extreme weather events. The primary chase vehicle — the "Bettes Mobile” — is equipped with multiple interior/exterior live cameras, including a 360-degree roof cam. Installed by NBC News Field Operations, the team uses a gyro-stabilized satellite antenna to broadcast live while the vehicles are in motion. The Tornado Hunt convoy is currently in Dallas and positioned in the event of an early tornado season outbreak. Tornado Hunt 2013 “officially” launches April 29 and ends May 11.
“The big challenge was designing the equipment to allow us to broadcast from virtually anywhere,” said Mike Jenkins, senior producer of special events at The Weather Channel. A crew of seven to nine people — three to four Weather Channel staff and two to three NBC News field operations engineers — travels with three vehicles that operate as a convoy.
Before Tornado Hunt begins, the Weather Channel rents two GMC Yukon SUVs for the season, which are sent to the NBC field operations facility in Long Island, City, NY. to be outfitted with the necessary equipment. A third satellite KU uplink truck also goes along to send live signals back to The Weather Channel headquarters in Dallas, TX.
Jenkins said the gyro-stabilized antenna on the roof is perhaps their most useful tool because, “We broadcast while moving much more than we do sitting still. The gyro antenna does a great job, even when traveling at 70mph. However, under bridges and trees are sometimes problematic for getting the signal out. That’s why the plains are the ideal topology for us.”
He added that high precipitation areas or “cells” are the worst, in terms of sending out a “clean” live signal.
“Our goal is always to work from the south side of an event, since we have to hit a satellite orbiting over the south," Jenkins said. "Our dream shot is a nice backlit storm. It doesn't always work out that well, but we try. It’s weather, after all, so it’s highly unpredictable. That’s why it’s key that we can move and broadcast at the same time.”