On the set with Storm Team 12
In the middle of the afternoon the KWCH Channel 12 studio is quiet and dim. The anchor desks are empty, and the green chroma key wall is shadowed. But the corner devoted to weather workstations is lit up and humming with radar and data. Gathering to talk about some of their experiences are four of the Storm Team 12 members, including Merril Teller, Ross Janssen, Rodney Price and Dean Jones. (Also part of the team is morning meteorologist Mark Larson.)
This is the literal calm before the storm. The severe weather season of 2013 will soon blow in and the team is gearing up for the high-wire meteorology act that is severe weather coverage in Kansas, ready to “shift to the nowcast” as Price describes it.
“We have to be ready to go on the air instantly when there’s severe weather,” says Merril Teller, Chief Meteorologist. “We might be taking up all the air time with storm coverage.”
A port in a storm
For everyone watching at home, the first piece of advice from the experts is to keep off the road. “There are a lot of people out there just seeking a thrill,” says Dean Jones, the Weekend Morning Meteorologist, speaking of amateur storm chasers.
“Last year, during the April 14th outbreak of storms — up near Salina the roads were just packed with chasers and they couldn’t get emergency vehicles in.”
Mark Larson, Rodney Price and Merril Teller
“Don’t try this at home. They’re nuts,” Rodney Price minces no words. He coordinates the seven storm spotters who follow severe weather systems, streaming photos and videos back to the station in real time. “The TV shows make it look easy to do and it’s anything but. Our guys out there, they’ve had quite a bit of training and they’ve done this for some time.”
If you’re determined to be up close and personal with a thunderstorm or tornado, Price recommends traveling with an experienced storm spotter or one of the tour groups that have cropped up over the past few years. At a bare minimum attend one of the two-hour spotter safety training classes organized by the National Weather Service.
Know the drill
The second piece of advice, Teller says, is for everyone to conduct a family drill to be clear where your severe weather shelter is. Stock up on flashlights, radios, batteries and water supplies, and include a sturdy pair of shoes and a jacket, “because a lot of times the storm’s ahead of a cold front and temperatures are going to dip.” Also, establish a rendezvous point where everyone can meet in case you become separated.
A smartphone app is a handy resource, whether you’re riding out a storm or just keeping up with the moving target of daily Kansas weather. Storm Team 12 has developed a free app for iPhone, iPad and Android, which puts real-time temperatures, forecasts, Doppler radar and severe weather alerts at your fingertips.
Even when there are no storm rotations brewing, Kansas weather is no walk in the park. “For every minute that we’re on the air in the news, we’ve spent an hour behind the scenes preparing,” explains Teller. “Our normal weathercasts are 3˝ minutes, and we’re taking 3-4 hours to prepare.”
That time is spent reviewing a flurry of technical data. Not just the forecast that comes down from the National Weather Service, but also satellite imagery, Doppler radar and computer models. “I can’t even count how many different models of the atmosphere are generated every day. It’s our job to filter through all of that stuff the best that we can.”
As if that’s not enough, Storm Team 12 also serves satellite stations, including those in Dodge City, Hays and Goodland. Altogether they cover 74 counties in Kansas, seven in Oklahoma, three in Colorado and three in Nebraska.
There’s a “hand touch” to the long-term forecast. “We all look at it, we make adjustments to it, and we all put our signature and our name to it,” says Jones. That adds up to a combined 30-40 years of experience. Unlike some sources, “we’re not just putting the computer model data out there.”
“And Millie has the final say,” says Ross Janssen, bending down to pet Millie the weather dog, the Corgi who’s his constant companion. “The paw of approval.”