The Weather Channel came to the TV Critics Association summer press tour this week to introduce a new upcoming series, “Coast Guard Alaska.” But if the year’s weather continues as it has, it’s hard to imagine they’d even have the available time to run it.
When severe weather strikes, it takes precedence. And Bob Walker, the head of programming and content on the channel, there’s been an awful lot of severe weather.
The challenging winter was marked by a Groundhog Day in which a third of the country was engulfed in “one of the most severe winter storm coverages of all time,” Walker says.
“Chicago had 20 inches of snow,” he said, “and had to close schools for the first time.”
The tornado season has been one of the worst., killing hundreds with major storms in the South and in Joplin, Mo. – which was the seventh single deadliest tornado on record in history.”
“Normally we see, on average, one EF-5 tornado every two years,” Walker says. “This year we’ve seen five EF-5 tornadoes.”
The country is currently suffering both floods and drought.
“You have six states that have had the wettest April on record, and the economic impact of flooding is between 2 and $4 billion. The drought, on the other extreme, affecting 12 percent of the continental U.S., is the biggest drought since 2000.”
And then came the heat, with spots in the Northeast hitting record highs over 100 last week, and sustained temperatures over 100 in Dallas. And now comes hurricane season.
Experts expect between 12 and 18 storms, with weather channel data showing 15. “They expect eight of those to be hurricanes. They expect half of those to be major hurricanes.”
The extreme weather means record ratings for the network, Walker says.
“On Jan. 31st and Feb. 1st, we had 46 million people tune into The Weather Channel. And on Feb. 1st we were the No. 1 cable network for total day and mornings. Now, on those same two days we did a half a billion page views on digital and mobile devices at the same time,” he says. “The appetite for what we do in the severe area has never been higher than it is today. And in Joplin’s case we had nearly 50 million people watch us the week of the Joplin tragedy. And in May, it was the best performance for the Weather Channel network in five years.”
Will things calm down by the time “Coast Guard Alaska” pulls in on Nov. 9? Don’t count on it.