Television meteorologists are a lifeline for local communities when severe weather strikes and are often considered a go-to resource when storms hit.
But that doesn’t stop the flood of criticism from coming in when unexpected weather events interrupt a person’s favorite TV show or sporting event, and often this criticism comes as violent threats.
That’s according to Dennis Mersereau, an expert insider who reports on weather phenomenons and the people who predict them.
“Broadcast meteorologists get flooded with hate mail and even death threats when they have to interrupt a popular show for severe weather coverage,” Mersereau writes in an article posted on a new media website called Considerable. “These stations can’t divide their feed to show coverage only to people in harm’s way — over-the-air broadcasts don’t work like that. ”
Mersereau says severe weather coverage is part of a station’s overall commitment to the community — one that is more a requirement of the federal government than a goodwill gesture.
Broadcast stations use radio spectrum set aside by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for both commercial companies and non-profit operations to use, but a condition of using these so-called public airwaves is that a station must deliver programming that in some way serves the public’s interest.
Entertainment and children’s programming ticks these boxes, but so, too, does news — and that’s why almost every major licensed broadcast station either has its own news department or has an agreement with another station in town to carry news for a few hours a day.
Mersereau says he understands why some viewers might find it frustrating to miss out on some or all of a show because of severe weather that is happening miles away — something that happens more often in TV markets that cover a large area.
“But cutting into regular programming to cover a tornado warning is a public service…,” he writes. “During a tornado, that public interest is very much keeping those in harm’s way aware of what’s on the horizon.”
And no one is better equipped in the moment to keep communities informed of what’s going on than the television meteorologist: Mersereau writes that the people who deliver the weather on-air are usually certified meteorologists with a degree in their field and often create their own weather forecasts (though most do aggregate data from third party services, including the National Weather Service and AccuWeather).
“The ultimate stereotype for a broadcast meteorologist is that they’re just a telegenic personality reading from a pre-written script,” Mersereau writes. “That may have had a whiff of truth to it half a century ago, but that’s certainly not the case anymore.”
Read more: 7 things your TV meteorologist wants to tell you, but can’t