Behind the scenes: Storm Team 12

WRITTEN BY Laura Roddy

On any given day, you won’t find Merril Teller or Ross Janssen cherry-picking weather forecasts or comparing themselves with their competitors.

They simply don’t have the time. For every minute of a weather broadcast, it takes about an hour of behind-the-scenes work. A typical news broadcast allots about three and a half minutes of airtime (so three to four hours of work) to the weather.

“Some people think we just watch The Weather Channel,” Janssen says.

But it’s his passion for the actual forecasting — using technology and science to compare models and predict the weather — that drives him as a TV meteorologist.

The Storm Team 12 crew — which consists of four full-time meteorologists, one part-time meteorologist and Millie the weather dog — is now responsible for more broadcasts than ever on both KWCH 12, the local CBS affiliate, and KSCW, the CW affiliate. Storm Team 12 also runs weather on its 24-hour dedicated cable channel, on kwch.com and through the Storm Team 12 mobile app.

Beyond that, there is the enormity of team’s broadcast area to consider. About three-quarters of Kansas lies in its viewing area. In all, Storm Team 12 watches the weather for 74 counties in Kansas, seven in Oklahoma, three in Colorado and three in Nebraska.

June is still an active month for severe weather, so Teller and Janssen caution people against letting their guard down. The meteorologists continually try to balance their need to inform the public with the inconvenience of broadcast interruptions for viewers in unaffected parts of the state.

“If it’s a life-threatening situation, then we’ll cover it,” Janssen says. “Forecasting is not perfect. But our accuracy is much better than it was five to 10 years ago.” And while meteorologists do have more lead time on weather predictions than in the past, limitations do exist.

Says Teller: “We can’t tell you what kind of storm season it’s going to be ahead of time.”

On a typical day, Storm Team 12 has staff coverage about 21 hours per day. But the instant the weather becomes inclement, team member are in the studio a full 24 hours per day.

“Our on-air set is our office,” Janssen explains.

Neither Janssen or Teller have ever had to take cover themselves while broadcasting, but they are prepared should the occasion arise. The station has backup power, and the meteorologists would be able to take their wireless microphones and digital tablets to the interior hallway of their cinderblock building.

Weather remains the top reason people watch local television newscasts, and Janssen and Teller are happy to keep the public informed on something that affects everyone. With the advent of smartphones in particular, it is now rare for a major weather event such as a tornado to occur without being documented by photo or video. They say even bizarre-looking clouds might result in 200 photos sent in to the station.

Through it all, Storm Team 12 remains mindful of a key distinction between its crew and its viewers. “A good weather day for the meteorologist is a bad day for the public,” Teller says.

Severe weather relief

When weather disasters occur, the American Red Cross is always on the scene. Consider the following:

A team of more than 75 Red Cross volunteers provided shelter, food, relief supplies, health services, emotional support and other assistance to residents in Baxter Springs, where a tornado struck more than 100 homes in April.

The Red Cross provided nearly 5,000 meals and snack items to the people affected in Baxter Springs, as well as more than 2,700 bulk items including cleanup kits, comfort kits, shovels, gloves and rakes.

The recovery process is ongoing, and the Red Cross will continue follow-up calls with residents to ensure they are able to get their lives back on track.

To donate to American Red Cross Disaster Relief, visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

 
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