Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hurricanes in Your Living Room; with the Season Officially under Way, Here's How Local TV Handles the Big Ones

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hurricanes in Your Living Room; with the Season Officially under Way, Here's How Local TV Handles the Big Ones

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Scanlan

They offer First Alert Doppler HD and the 2-Minute Advantage to track hurricanes, smartphone apps to alert us to bad weather and animation software to dissect a storm's guts.

But when Tropical Storm Beryl churned through a week before today's official start of the hurricane season, that tech was augmented by all meteorologists on deck at Action News, First Coast News and News4Jax (WJXT TV-4).

Using desks full of computers and their accumulated knowledge, each station's weather experts gave viewers the windy news in every way possible, starting with Beryl's approach to its soaking departure through the rest of the week.

George Winterling, the dean of meteorology in Northeast Florida since 1962, predicted Hurricane Dora would hit St. Augustine and Jacksonville 48 years ago based on his knowledge, a barometer and hurricane center updates. Even with today's satellite images, Doppler radar and computers, he believes viewers look to a station's meteorologists versus technology.

"The people are No. 1, all the way," said Winterling, retired and now WJXT TV-4's hurricane consultant. "... We have people looking to us from a 100-mile radius and we don't want to exclude anyone."

Action News' Mike Buresh said he has a mix of emotions when he's forecasting in the middle of a big storm, remembering days of being on the air tracking the tragedies of four of them in 2004.

"There's excitement and fear to some degree for my viewers - am I giving out the right information, am I protecting them and are they hearing me?" Buresh said. "... I think people see us as robotic and not caring, and it's quite the opposite."

Over at First Coast News, Tim Deegan said he's excited when a hurricane comes but concerned at the same time.

He tries to hold his emotions in check when he's broadcasting, especially when he's been working a storm for days and he's tired.

"There is still a part of me that's Timmy Deegan, 6 years old, and I want to be out there staring at the storm," Deegan said. "There is a part of me that says I have to relax here because I have about two minutes to say some really important stuff and I don't want to scare them, but I want to make sure I am doing things to protect people the best I can."

Jacksonville's three local television news operations have weather centers as part of their news sets to funnel National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center data as well as other sources like weather radar, satellite shots and weather cameras into their live forecasts. All use computer programs to crunch that weather data into images that show a storm's height, hail or rain content, even where and when it will go.

All three station chief meteorologists are American Meteorological Society certified broadcast meteorologists, which means they have a degree in meteorology and passed a 100-question meteorology exam and forecast evaluation. The society does not rate the accuracy of those with the designation.

The closest Buresh has seen the area come to a hurricane was in 2004, beginning with Tropical Storm Bonnie and what looked like "a Midwestern tornado" causing massive damage in Northwest Jacksonville.

Then Hurricanes Charley and Frances and Tropical Storm Jeanne came close in the next six weeks with high winds, rain and power outages, the last killing a 15-year-old boy in Fleming Island when a tree hit him.

Others that came close included 2008's Tropical Storm Fay.

"It was Fay that wouldn't go away. It went three days and dropped 18 inches on my front yard," Buresh said.

WJXT TV-4's John Gaughan remembers Bonnie's tornado, starting when a reporter on scene called him to report its massive black cloud.

"I could hear the tornado through her cellphone. …

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