Just Another Weathercast

The following is fiction, based on true stories... Alan Sealls, © 1994

9:00am. I enter the weather office and flick on the lights. Immediately my eyes sweep across the room for a glance at the weather map and data printers. No paper jams. That's good but the data printer is down to about a half inch of paper. As I replace the paper my sense of hearing kicks in. Silence! That's bad. This time of day I should hear maps churning out of the printer. All I hear is beeps from my graphics computer as it ingests satellite and radar images. Once I finish changing the paper I step to the map printer to check all cables and connections and reset it just in case... Still nothing. I'll give it a few minutes. In the meantime I listen to my voice mail: the intern says he can't make it today; a viewer wants the daily temperatures for half of 1989; an observer gives his local readings and notes that the dewpoint is rising; and my former agent wants to have lunch. "A job offer?" I wonder. Still nothing on the printer so I call the data vendor. The number is long-ago memorized from many days like this. The operator answers and puts me on hold to be serenaded by a country-western version of "Stormy Weather." "They must be having transmission difficulty," I think aloud. All the customers call at once to jam the lines whenever there's a major problem. Two minutes elapse. I maximize time by checking the satellite and radar images in the graphics computer to ensure everything looks ok. Phone cradled between shoulder and head, I type in commands to view images. "Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky..." With a sputter and squeal the map printer springs to life. "Now that's music to my ears," hanging up the phone. Time to cut the dozens of maps sitting in the bin.

9:20am. All maps cut. Everything's in order. I go to the newsroom for a preliminary check with the newscast producer. She's munching on doughnuts sent by a sponsor. Payola? I tell her we'll see afternoon thunderstorms- our first in a while. "What time?" she asks, brushing crumbs off her keyboard. "...Can't say yet, I'll get back to you on that." The producer continues, " Ok, here's what we've got. News is slow today so we might lead with weather. Oh, by the way, we may want you to do weather live tonight from on top of Memorial Bridge." The bridge is narrow I recall, "Are they closing a lane?" "Oh, no. I meant on top of the bridge tower," she says with a straight face. "You've got to be kidding! Do you know how small the tower is and how windy it is that high above the river?" I can only think about an old movie I saw in which a depressed circus clown made his way to the top of a bridge tower and was blown off. "No way," I say, "that's not in my contract!" The producer reminds me, "You don't have a contract."

9:30am. On the way back to the weather office the mail courier hands me letters and says he thinks I have a guest in the lobby. "Guest, what guest?" I don't remember inviting somebody in. I step swiftly to the reception area and peek through the glass to see two college-aged men looking at the station's trophy case. The security guard points to them and waves signifying that they seem harmless. Some people off the street are not! I enter the lobby and the two spot me. The taller gushes, "Look, I know you're busy but we're huge fans of yours and we were wondering if..." "If we could have your autograph," the other finishes. I smile, half from appreciation and half from amusement. As I sign their notebooks the taller starts, "Do you think the ozone thing is real. I mean, I heard on the radio a scientist said...." I give him a quick answer. "Well how about global warming?" the other asks. Shaking their hands I explain that that's a long answer. The taller one begins another question but I cut him off to remind him that I am busy. They apologize and turn to leave pledging to watch me, "all the time." As they exit I overhear one whisper to the other, "He looks taller on TV." Heading back to the weather office I open my mail to find: student letters from a school that I had visited; a realtor trying to sell me a condo; a memo for a meeting that was two days ago; and an invitation from the National Dandruff Society to host their banquet. How that relates to weather, I don't know. Maybe they're trying to tell me something.

9:45am. In the weather office I start analysis of weather charts. Using multicolored pencils I trace and highlight significant features. Climatic records let me know if anything unusual has occurred on this date. Precipitation this month has been zero. It's dry.

10:10am. The phone rings and pulls me out of deep thought. The caller says, "I enjoy your weathercasts but..." I hold my breath. "...But you seem to always stand in front of the states where my relatives live. I pause. Exhale. Realizing that the caller is sincere I explain my job is to focus on the local area but I do add, "I'll see what I can do." Resuming analysis I start a program in my graphics computer that will redraw satellite images to a custom projection. This is to maintain the station's "look". A pencil falls off the desk and rolls under some equipment. I reach down between two cabinets and see two tiny eyes peering at me. My heart skips half a beat until I realize it's only one of the station's mice. A nuisance but not exactly dangerous. The mouse scampers away. As I reach for the pencil, I'm careful to not disturb the spaghetti-like connecting cables for our computer systems. The last time I moved a cable one of the computers crashed.

10:15am. The phone rings and the caller thinks he has reached the local hospital. Wrong number! I'm called into the studio for a lighting check. We've had problems lately with certain colors becoming transparent in front of the green chroma key wall. The floor crew is moving slowly and I fidget, thinking about wasted time. As I watch the monitor the camera brings me into focus. One by one a computer in the control room removes the colors of the spectrum until there is not much left besides my head and hands. I move as in a mock weathercast while the floor director snickers. Minutes pass. The camera operator looks out from behind the lens and asks what the weather will be in Hawaii. Everyone hisses out of jealousy. They know he'll be on vacation in a week. "Now does it really matter?" I ask.

10:25am. Finally the lighting looks good, I'm finished but behind schedule. In the weather office the "message waiting" light is flashing on the phone. A viewer wants to know how to set a barometer. I'll handle that later. I get back to analysis and complete my forecast.

11:00am. Heading back into the newsroom I hear reports of an industrial fire crackling on the scanners. "There's our lead story," I guess. A reporting crew rushes past me heading to the fire. I tell the producer we can still expect our first thunderstorms in the afternoon. "Great!" she exclaims with a little too much enthusiasm. "I'll put weather right after the fire at the top of the show. Tease the weather segment at the end of the second block at 12:12 and I'll give you 2 minutes at 12:15." I protest a two minute weathercast on a day when we get our first active weather in a while. "OK," the producer says, "2:30 but a tight 2:30." This means I'm going to be rushed through the segment. As I turn to walk away the assignment editor catches me. "You're not gonna wear that tie!?" he says. "We can trade," I quip. He continues, "Not on your life. I thought you said we were gonna get snow, you guys are always wrong." I keep walking. This has become a daily ritual, one I can do without.

11:05am. After glancing out the window it's time to start my graphics. I scribble on the nearest map what I plan to create and in what order I'll use the graphics on-air. First I draw a surface map and then start on an isotherm map. The office lights dim for a split second. I hear a collective groan from the newsroom. We just had a power surge due to construction next door. Half the electronics systems in the station must be rebooted. After rebooting I lose the map and have to start over. Five wasted minutes.

11:30am. A few weather observers call in readings. One notes cumulus clouds building rapidly. I check our radar. No rain yet. I pull the latest charts off the map printer and take a quick look before I finalize my forecast. The font operator comes in to pick up my forecast, looks at it and says, "Can't you do any better?" I shake my head. On the way out the door the font operator collides with the producer. Everybody is rushing as we get closer to air time. The producer continues past the weather office and yells, "I think I need some time back, that fire is into extra alarms." I shrug and nod my head thinking sarcastically, "What a surprise."

11:45am. I clip on my wireless microphone and resume creating weather graphics. From this point on I'm careful of what I say since my mic can be turned on in the control room at any time. More observers call. They're late but on active weather days observer reports are very useful.

11:46am. I put my lunch on top of a monitor to warm it. The engineers don't like this.

11:49am. I put on makeup and comb my hair. "Oh well, that's the best I can do."

11:50am. Microphone check. It's fine.

11:51am. While checking over my graphics I almost hit "delete all." Close call! That's a bad feeling to see 45 minutes of work disappear. I debate starting another map vs. doing a little more detailed analysis.

11:53am. Isolated showers appear on the radar.

11:54am. The floor crew is sitting casually in the studio while the news writers and editors are frantically finishing late stories.

11:55am. The news anchor rushes into the studio with scripts trailing behind her. "Five minutes," the floor director yells.

11:57am. "Three minutes." I hurriedly complete my graphic and save it.

11:58am. "Two minutes." The phone rings. "No way," I think, no one should be calling at this time. I let the voice mail take the call.

11:59am. "One minute." The radar shows stronger showers now. Some may be weak thunderstorms. The floor director counts down, "five, four, three, two..."

12:00pm. The anchor starts, "Good afternoon, a major fire is raging...." Soon a reporter appears live at the scene of the blaze. I look at the background to get a view of the sky condition. The smoke is moving rapidly letting me know that the winds have picked up. I know I'll be called to the studio any minute but in the meantime I retrieve and plot the current conditions. Not a minute to waste now.

12:03pm. The reporter starts into a closing cadence so I head to the studio. The floor director waves me off signaling that I am no longer in the first segment. I go back to finish my graphic.

12:05pm. As I plot temperatures I listen to the message left on the phone mail. An observer reports thunder but no rain. I study the radar for 10 seconds and can now see indications of weak thunderstorms. I'll update the forecast. As I pick up the phone to call the font operator the floor director rushes in, " We need you in 45 seconds!" "Huh? You just told me..." "It changed," the director snaps back, "get out here now!" I punch a few keys to display the latest radar and move swiftly to my chair on the set.

12:07pm. The anchor finishes her story and looks at me, "Another nice one?" she asks. Realizing that she has not been outside in four hours I reply "Well, not exactly, things are changing." I call for the radar but all I see on the monitor is myself as I ad lib. "Did I punch the wrong key?" I wonder to myself. I call for it again. Bingo. There it is. The floor director circles her hand in the air letting me know that my time is up. We go to a commercial.

12:08pm. The data printer in the weather office has a special weather statement with small hail being reported. Now I call the font operator with an update, hoping that in the rush words will be spelled correctly.

12:11pm. The news goes back to the fire. Glancing at the screen I decide to incorporate some meteorological reasoning behind the volatility of the fire in my weather segment.

12:12pm. All my graphics are done so I put them into a sequence for playback on the air. I can't use all that I created since my time has been reduced to 2 minutes. What a waste!

12:13pm. The floor director pokes her head into the office, "Call the producer." she says. That's not good. It usually means I'm going to lose more time. The producer asks, "Can you do it in 1:30?" I respond, "Only if I must, there's hail moving in." "OK," she says, "two minutes, but a tight two. No chit chat and I'm dropping your tease." I think of all the preparation I've done for just two minutes of presentation. That's TV news.

12:14pm. I run though my graphics sequence to see how well it flows. One last minute check of the radar and data shows nothing new. I look out the window.

12:16pm. Commercial. I head to the studio.

12:18pm. We're on. The anchor introduces me. I'm in front of the green wall where my maps are electronically simulated. The camera is not framed well so I feel like I have to duck to stay in the picture. I ad lib a synopsis and go to the updated radar. Meanwhile a news intern rushes into the studio with scripts and trips over a camera cable. Someone chuckles but I maintain my focus as the floor director gives me a wrap-up cue. Out of the corner of my eyes I can see that the news anchor is not listening to my forecast so I tell the viewers that I'll have an update on the evening news and return control of the newscast to the news anchor. No questions. No comment. No time.

12:20pm. Commercial. Back to the weather office to check on any changes.

12:26pm. Another power surge, I reboot my graphics computer...just in case.

12:27pm. Another commercial. Lots of commercials means the station is making money. By now the anchor is more relaxed. She's shooting baskets with crumpled-up scripts. The floor director is not so relaxed. She runs into the office, "We lost the last live shot, can you fill a minute?" "Oh sure," I think, "now they want me. At least I get to use the graphics that I had to drop." "No problem," I tell her.

12:29pm. I'm on the set finally able to have a normal interchange with the news anchor and give the viewers additional, unhurried information.

12:30pm. We sign off. A commercial. I breath.

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