For Emmy award-winning weather reporter Tevin Wooten and his team at The Weather Channel, coverage this year has changed in “every way one could imagine.”
The pandemic complicated travel plans and resources. And hurricanes and wildfires intensified.
Sally — the fourth hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. this year — has inundated the Gulf Coast with “4 months of rain in 4 hours,” officials said Thursday morning. With 3 months to go, the 2020 hurricane season has already set several records and forecasters are running out of storm names.
On top of the active tropical systems in the Gulf, record-setting wildfires in the West have destroyed more than 5 million acres of land and caused hazardous air quality in cities across California, Oregon and Washington.
I emailed Wooten — who has been covering Sally from Navarre, Florida — for advice on how journalists can report on breaking weather stories when it’s not normally their beat.
What are your top three tips for journalists reporting on natural disasters when it’s not normally their beat?
Wooten: Lean on the experts and ask questions. Whether it’s a state climatologist, local broadcast meteorologists or National Weather Service meteorologists…we’ve gone through years of extensive mathematics and science courses. We truly know the ins and outs, and often enjoy breaking down every little bit.
Relate your stories to the impacts, and don’t focus on the jargon. Sometimes, the public will latch on to fancy terms, and the forecast itself or threats are lost in the mix.
Don’t hype or create new terminology for the sake of it. Covering weather and natural disasters is already complex. There’s no need to sensationalize to grab attention.
Can you share some weather resources for journalists to get up to speed quickly?
- Hurricanes – The National Hurricane Center
- Wildfires – Incident Information System InciWeb
- American Meteorological Society (AMS) is a good resource in general with an extensive database of journals and a glossary of most every weather phenomenon.
What are some weather trends for journalists to monitor for future articles?
Wooten: The intersection of climate change and hurricanes seems to have piqued the interest of many Americans. Despite an increasing threat, there is still a growing population along major coastlines without proper infrastructure management.
Socioeconomic status also comes into the fold. Americans are significantly leaning on state and local government, so it’s critical to ensure those below the poverty line are given proper attention just because they don’t have the proper financials to prepare (and respond) for hurricanes.
How has your hurricane coverage changed this year during the pandemic?
Wooten: In every way one could imagine. Beyond the aggressive use of PPE, we have to be even more self-sufficient going into a city, because we don’t know what resources will be available. Simple tasks such as going to the grocery store for supplies are limited. Some businesses where we’d typically eat haven’t even re-opened from the pandemic.
We’ve also modified how we’re deploying our crews. In many instances there are times where we’d make the longer drive than the shorter flight. We have to be a bit more strategic in socially distancing.
In your opinion, what is missing from the hurricane coverage so far? Who is doing it right?
Wooten: Selfishly, I’d say my colleagues and I at The Weather Channel produce the best world class coverage around the clock. But local broadcasters know their area better than anyone, and I think they deserve credit for keeping up and connecting with their community.
What is your advice for staying safe in the field?
Wooten: Make safety be the top priority and let the storm come to you.