The call was very clear but colorful…
“Get that blankety-blank crawl thing off my TV. I’m trying to watch the World Series!
We hear you.
It has always been one of the things that, as a TV station before and as a multi-media provider now that has plagued us. The delicate balance between entertainment and information.
Please know: we want you to watch your shows uninterrupted, if it can be helped.
However, there are times during dangerous weather we must alert as much of our audience as possible to things that could impact their day or even their lives.
What is our procedure for “crawling” or scrolling information across your TV screen? Why does a text alert for fog or freezing temperatures wake you up at 2am? Why, for crying out loud, do you have to interrupt “Dancing With The Stars” to tell me there’s a storm somewhere?”
The answer is…there is really never a good time.
Here are some things to note as they pertain to activating WBKO‘s alert systems…
“The Crawl” – that’s the words you see scroll, usually across the top of the screen, with pertinent weather information. Of late, the crawl has been about frost and freeze advisories or fog advisories. Now, you may think these are not dangerous or life-threatening, but they can be. The first frost and freeze of the Fall season puts an end to the growing season. Farmers need to know this is coming. While not life-threatening per se, it does kill business for a while. It can also freeze the water pipes in your home or freeze up your vehicle if it hasn’t been properly maintained.
Fog can kill. Almost every time we have dense fog here in Southern Kentucky, we can hear the police scanner abuzz with a rash of accidents, some fatal.
Depending on the nature and severity of the weather at hand, the “crawl” is programmed to run only once every 3 hours for frost or fog alerts. However, if the National Weather Service extends the advisory area or changes the time of the advisory, the crawl will run again before the 3 hours is up. That is why you may see it run more often.
During times of severe weather such as the threat of severe thunderstorms, floods, tornadoes or winter storms, you will see the crawl run more than once an hour. The rest of the time, we will use the tiny blue bar we call the LIVEWIRE WEATHER ALERT to run continuously in the upper right corner of your screen.
We can move the crawl and bar.
If there is special sports programming on where the scoreline is at the top of the screen, we can move the crawl to the bottom and vice versa. But…
…we operate three TV stations, not just one.
And we cover about 20 counties within our viewing area. Sometimes a crawl may run during a program that is special to you and you don’t want it covered up. We get that.
We will do the best we can to monitor those situations and keep the crawls off – or move them around the screen out of the way of information – if the situation allows.
Text Alerts pop up on your phone according to when the National Weather Service issues a bulletin. These are automatic when you sign up for them. We cannot tell your phone to ignore when an alert is issued so when they happen depends on the weather occurring at the time. However, we do control when you receive the 3-day text forecast. If you are signed up for them, they will appear around 6:30-7:00am each morning and will show you an abbreviated forecast for the next three days. We can also send school closings through our Polar Report portal to your phone. You will know at the same time we do when schools are closed, running late or closing early. With this great feature, you never have to ask the question “will there be school today?”
If people are in danger, that comes first!
Nothing supersedes a threat of flooding or tornadoes or winds that can cause damage. You can expect us to interrupt programming based on the severity of the storm. If a particular storm is only causing a minor irritation, we will use commercial breaks to update you. But if were getting confirmed reports of damage and we know the storm will be a threat to any part of our vast viewing area, we will break into regular programming long enough to cover it. Commercial breaks are sometimes just not long enough to tell you the whole story.
Tornado Warnings are treated differently. This is the highest priority alert we can give. If the National Weather Service issues a Tornado Warning in any one of our 20 county area, we will interrupt regular programming and stay on with LIVE coverage until the warning expires. It could be 30 minutes, it could be 45, it might be an hour or longer if there are multiple Tornado Warnings.
Here’s the thing…we cannot know for certain, always, whether a tornado has touched down or not!
Information is flowing from numerous sources at breakneck speed. We do our best to parse out all that information from phone calls, email, social media, police reports, etc. and determine what needs to be broadcast, all in a matter of seconds. It’s not easy, but it’s something we constantly strive for.
We don’t want to take up any more of your time if we don’t have to.
We’ve had a few people tell us they hate it when we repeat ourselves. That we are just saying the same thing over and over because we (as they put it) like to hear ourselves talk. Wrong. If the situation presents itself as dangerous or life-threatening, we’re going to repeat ourselves until the message is clear.
Keep in mind, your not the only one watching!
During severe weather events, people are coming and going and tuning in once they see a dark sky or read on facebook that the weather is getting bad. We repeat ourselves to make sure times and locations and the threat has been communicated. We know it doesn’t always make for entertaining television, but in these moments, we’re not here to entertain.
The TV is not the only thing we have to pay attention to anymore.
We are no longer just a TV station. We stopped calling ourselves that years ago. We are now a multi-media content provider. We know it’s easier to say “channel 13” or “the TV station” but we are on the web, on mobile devices and in text alerts and practically anything that has a screen and internet service on it. Because of this, we can push out important weather information across multiple platforms at once. This is why you hear us talk a lot about downloading our app to your phone or signing up for text alerts. They are free and easy to navigate. Even better, you get the word at the same time we find out!
It’s no longer a one-way street!
Information flows, but it used to only go one direction. Thanks to the internet and social media, we can now share with each other what’s going on out there. And we want to know what’s happening “in the moment” and where you live. You can be an on-the-spot reporter for WBKO when severe weather, news or anything else happens. Send us a twitter or facebook message. We are constantly monitoring these feeds. Send a photo of an accident or trees down (when it’s safe to do so, of course). It helps us tell the story to the rest of our audience…and we’ll give you credit!
Radar can’t see everything.
Doppler radar is probably one of the greatest – if not the greatest weather tool of the 20th century but it even has its limits. We, the broadcast industry, made the mistake a few decades ago of boasting who had the bigger radar or who had the best weather team or who was on first with coverage. All of that is meaningless unless you get it right. On top of that, the viewer must understand what’s happening and why there is the need for urgency.
The key is PREPAREDNESS!
Our focus as a weather team has turned from bragging about radars and weather coverage to personal preparedness. This is why you hear us talk a lot about situational awareness, having a safety plan, signing up for text alerts and having more than one way to monitor the weather at all times.
If you are prepared for anything, nothing will surprise you!
That’s where the phrase “know the weather BEFORE it knows you” comes from. We often hear people chuckle when we say it but it gets the point across. With the advent of modern technology, there are now over two dozen different ways to watch the weather. One of those includes the old-fashioned notion of just looking out the window! You need to know where you are in line of the storm. You have that power in the palm of your hands thanks to mobile apps such as RadarScope and our newly revised WBKO app for iPhone and Android devices. You can set the radar to center where you live, work or play. It’s free and easy to search for in the App Store or Google Play. If you have internet data service on your phone, you should always have our app available.
When you go to WBKO.com and sign up for our free text alerts, you can choose the county you live in and the severe weather criteria you wish to be warned for. It’s all up to you!
We will do our best to give you a heads-up.
Oftentimes, we can see severe weather coming our way days in advance. In fact, we can see right now that this coming Thursday, Halloween, could very well be a rare severe weather day here in Southern Kentucky. The time to prepare is now…not when “the expletive” starts hitting the fan. Know where you would need to seek shelter in whatever situation you might find yourself in. Someplace low to the ground or in a basement is best. Find the center-most room in your home, such as a bathroom or closet and get low to the floor. We’ve preached it enough you should know the drill by now. But we won’t stop repeating it! There are still people that would rather wait, then panic, then blame us. It’s just the nature of the beast.
I hope this near-novel provides you with a little better insight on why-we-do-what-we-do when it comes to alerting you to severe weather. This is not just about our jobs, it is something we do with a passion.