3D weather graphics by KWCH

Putting Wichitans in the know

Written by Amy Palser | Photography by Michael Carroll Jr.

KWCH Channel 12’s new 3D weather graphic technology, Storm Team 12 Reality, not only looks cool, it’s helping to better educate viewers on Kansas’ topsy-turvy weather.

Storm Team 12 chief meteorologist Ross Janssen said that because actual storms are three-dimensional — rising into the atmosphere with different elements at different levels — the new graphics allow him and the KWCH weather team to show viewers the big picture, so to speak. Janssen still displays weather maps on the traditional green screen behind him, but now 3D animations of storms can appear in the space in front of and below him.

“We’ve always been able to do some things in 3D, but this allows us to take it to a different level,” Janssen said. “One of the biggest advantages to having this technology is that it helps make sense of science and make sense of Kansas weather. The response we’re getting from people is they think it’s pretty cool. I’ve had people tell me I look like a wizard on TV.”

Janssen said there’s definitely a learning curve for the meteorologists using the technology. “It’s by far some of the hardest graphics I’ve had to create and the most difficult to use on the air,” he said. Some of the graphics can take hours to build and require the skills of a computer animator. Meanwhile, it’s tricky getting used to the “phantom” graphics during a newscast, which only appear on camera and on viewers’ televisions but, of course, don’t exist in reality for the meteorologists.

KWCH rolled out the new graphics for viewers on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3. Only about 40 TV markets across the nation are using the technology in their newscasts. “It will likely start showing up in some of these bigger markets, but we’re the only one in Wichita and the only one in this region using it,” Janssen said. “So it’s definitely brand new.”

Janssen thinks Wichita is a great place to utilize 3D technology because of the frequent and unusual nature of storms here — and because Kansans are traditionally very in tune with the weather. “Because we have such a variety of weather here in the plains, this is a great place to test new weather equipment.”

Preparing for storm season

As the state’s Severe Weather Awareness Week approaches (March 4-8), Janssen said it’s a good time for folks to review safety procedures, change batteries in flashlights and weather radios, and prepare for what could be a lively storm season. “From what I’ve read and what I’ve looked at, because we’ve had so much precipitation since last fall, this could be an active storm season,” he said.

But although spring is just around the corner, winter might stick around longer than it should. “We’re feeling very confident that winter is going to be very slow to end this year,” Janssen said. “There’s still a lot of cold weather yet to go. I see temperatures being cold into deep March. The groundhog is wrong this year.”

Janssen usually starts thinking about tornado preparedness in mid-March; that was about the time of the Hesston F5 tornado, which struck March 13, 1990, and caused widespread damage to homes and businesses.

One of the best lines of defense against dangerous storms is knowing the forecast, Janssen said, and that means knowing where to get the information you need — and making sure it’s reliable. “Facebook is not a reliable source for severe weather information,” he said. “When you’re on social media, pay attention to the source of your information. People see things that frighten them and they have a tendency to share that stuff — even if it’s not from a reliable source.”

Janssen recommends the Storm Team 12 weather app, which debuted about a year ago. The free tool sends weather bulletins, posts updated weather videos and can even send pertinent information based upon your exact location if you are in the path of a dangerous storm. “If they’re hiding in their basement, they can pull the app up on their phone and get up-to-date storm information,” he said. “KWCH has info on Twitter and Facebook, but when we get into an active situation, the Storm Team 12 app is the best tool to have, especially for families on the go while they’re away from their TV.”

Because many people rely on weather updates via their smartphones, Janssen said it’s crucial that phones are charged, kept nearby and aren’t on silent during severe weather season. “Nighttime tornadoes are still extremely dangerous, so think about how you would get weather notifications during nighttime hours,” he said.

The very smartphones that can keep you informed during a storm situation have also caused trouble for overconfident amateur storm chasers. “Don’t think that you’re qualified to chase a storm because you have a smartphone,” Janssen said. “We’ve had cases where folks have a sophisticated radar app, so they’re going to chase the tornado. But that is extremely dangerous. Don’t do it unless you’ve got the training.”

Storm Team 12 is made up of meteorologists Ross Janssen, Merril Teller, Mark Larson, Sarah Fletcher and Dean Jones.

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