The Weather Channel reveals how it has revolutionized tornado and weather graphics helping its ratings rise – while other forecasters have remained virtually unchanged
- For years, The Weather Channel stuck to sending reporters into dangerous weather to give audiences a feel for conditions on the ground
- That started to change in 2015, when the company brought its first 3D tornado inside the studio
- Since then, TWC has become a trailblazer when it comes to using dynamic graphic images to engage viewers during broadcasts
- The strategy has fueled a steady rise in overall ratings. The year 2017 was its highest-rated year
- The network says it wants 80 percent of its broadcasts to include its revolutionary graphic imagery by the year 2020
Swirling tornadoes, falling telephone poles, rushing flood waters, bursts of lightning, and airborne cars that crash land on the studio floor are a sample of the lifelike 3D graphic illustrations commonly used by The Weather Channel in 2019.
For years, the network stuck to its tried and true method of sending reporters and meteorologists into dangerous weather to give audiences a feel for conditions on the ground.
‘There’s a reason we put our talent out there [during storms], because we want audiences to feel like they’re there and experiencing it with them, to understand the messages we’re trying to provide them,’ Mike Chesterfield, director of weather presentation at the Weather Channel told Fast Company during a recent interview.
That started to change in 2015, when the company brought its first 3D tornado inside the studio.
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‘That was the first aha moment for all of us,’ Chesterfield said. ‘We were able to put [meteorologist] Jim Cantore next to a tornado, and look how much it enhanced the story.’
Since then, TWC has become a trailblazer when it comes to using dynamic graphic images to engage viewers during broadcasts – and the strategy has fueled a steady rise in overall ratings.
The network’s viewership has increased steadily since 2013. The year 2017 was TWC’s highest-rated year.
The channel’s 2015 experiment was nothing compared to the graphics evolution it underwent two years ago.
TWC’s leaders hired The Future Group to create a more advanced augmented reality arrangement in the studio. The apparatus uses custom camera rigs and a highly specialized back end.
The company built a platform that runs Unreal Engine graphics, which works in tandem with a physics simulator used in some of the most world’s popular video games, such as the latest edition in the Gears of War series.
The Unreal effects can render tornadoes and other weather anomalies in real time right in front of viewers’ eyes.
Fifteen months after debuting the immersive graphics system, The Weather Channel team incorporated amazing illustrations of California’s wildfires and flood waters from Hurricane Florence’s storm surge.
‘Up to this date, we’d put [the information] on a flat map and said you can expect three feet of storm surge, or six feet,’ Chesterfield noted. ‘But with surge effects, we were able to show what three feet and six feet look like [flooding] someone’s neighborhood.’
The response on social media was overwhelming, with viewers sharing the illustrations with family members in Florence’s path,’ Chesterfield said.
‘That was the first piece of evidence that we got people to react out ahead of a storm,’ he added.
By the year 2020, The Weather Channel says it wants 80 percent of its broadcasts to include its revolutionary graphic imagery.
‘It will be a great mixture of the old school with the new school,’ Chesterfield predicted. ‘They’ll work hand-in-hand in the future.’