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Posted at 05:53 PM ET, 07/27/2011

Summer TV Press Tour 2011: TV critics ponder the meaning of weather


This satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Earl. (AP - AP)
The Weather Channel is very hot these days because of, well, weather.

What with all the record heat, record flooding, record drought, record tornado outbreaks, etc. and all, about 100,000 people a day are downloading the Weather Channel app on their mobile devices. May was the network’s highest rated month in five years -- nearly 50 million watched the channel’s coverage of the catastrophic tornado destruction in Joplin, Mo., which was the seventh deadliest tornado on record.

Weather Channel general manager Bob Walker, meterologists Jim Cantore and Stephanie Abrams, and hurricane expert Dr. Rick Knabb came to Day 2 of Summer TV Press Tour 2011 to walk that very fine line between talking about all this severe weather and gloating about it. They also dodged the dangerous question from TV critics, columnists, reporters, and bloggers attending the tour, as to whether they subscribe to “global warming.”

“We’re trying to use the words “climate change” as opposed to ‘global warming’,” Stephanie tippity tap-tapped in the ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hilton where the tour is being held.

“It’s not all about warming.”

“We focus on the science and the facts of what’s going on and let others worry about the politics,” added GM Bob.

Standing in the middle of hurricanes is something best left to experts – like them, the panelists all agreed.

It’s those other bits of on-air talent, who strap themselves to rooftops and stand on storm walls when the skies have opened up and the winds have hit 120 mph who are giving talking-heads-in-hurricanes a bad name.

“You will not see me standing on a storm wall” in a hurricane, Stephanie vowed. “That’s crazy. We get given a bad name because…other people out there are not as knowledgeable.”

But, it’s important to send talking heads into the eye of the storm, with a camera crew in tow, she hastened to add, because it helps the talking head better understand severe weather.

“People need to know the power of these storms and there is no way to get across to the folks the dangers the weather presents unless we see what it looks like,” concurred Dr. Rick, calling it “very important educational… material.”

Besides, back in the days when Weather Channel was just map-of-storm-area-here/map-of-tornado-path-there, viewers told the channel, “That’s great but show us how INTENSE they are,” said Jim, who is a Weather Channel old-timer.

“That really was the birth of our live coverage back in the 80’s,” he explained.

In the 90’s, he told the room, a lady walked up to him as he was on the spot in some weather-infested place, and said to him “I’m glad you’re here to take us through it.”

“I never forgot that,” Jim said.

“We’re helping people,” Stephanie jumped back in.

Bob the GM went with, “keeping people safe.” And yet, he noted proudly, while the network has many professional crews deployed to extreme-weather locations, “increasingly” they are hearing from citizen weathermen who are sending their own videos from weather-stricken places.

One TV critic worried about ice. “We’re all very concerned about global warming -- if things get hot,” the critic began, seguing to, “We haven’t seen an Ice Age in a while… Are we going to have another Ice Age?”

“Climatology is the study of weather going out over a long period of time – meteorology is what we do,” Jim explained patiently. “Those are questions my expertise can’t answer.” But, he added, he’s seen glaciers with the stakes in them that show how far the glacier has retreated. “That’s alarming to me…the ice is melting,” he confided.

Another critic wondered why the weather channel covers earthquakes.

GM Bob was glad they’d asked. Weather Channel customers define “weather” as “all things affecting the natural world in which we live,” he explained. That includes earthquakes in Haiti and Japan – and tsunamis too.

Another critics complained that weathermen have become the rock stars of local news, instead of crime reporters, like god intended. These days, the critic whined, If It Drizzles, It Leads.

GM Bob gave it to the critic like a slap in the face: 90 percent of the country’s population checks the weather – every day.

“Is there any safe haven” from weather, wondered another critic.

There is not.

By  |  05:53 PM ET, 07/27/2011

 
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