For weeks now, the network has broadcast live nonstop, first as Hurricane Harvey inundated Texas, and now as Irma menaces Florida. Roughly 70 reporters and producers are in the field, and many employees have all but moved into company headquarters.
“They’re the only broadcast entity that’s covering a Harvey or an Irma 24/7,” said J. Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia. “On quiet days, it’s tough for them, but they are tailor made for times like this.”
Ratings bear this out. The Weather Channel averaged nearly 1.3 million viewers during prime time over the first half of last week, up sharply from an average of 150,000 viewers during the last week of July, when the weather wasn’t a story, according to Nielsen.
Since the last week of August, reporters and producers have worked extended shifts. Employees from the human resources department have volunteered to help monitor social media. And all around the headquarters, there are signs that the Weather Channel has kicked into high gear.
As Ms. Zimmett emerged from the control room, she passed a table piled high with foil-wrapped breakfast sandwiches, the first of four free meals provided each day during big stories. And in a workplace not known for its perks, employees are being offered help finding additional child care and free massages in the office.
“People are tired,” Ms. Zimmett said.“But there is an adrenaline that comes with an event like this.”
At Friday’s 9:15 a.m. editorial meeting, Ms. Zimmett and a few dozen executives crowded around a conference table to discuss coverage plans for the days ahead.
At issue was where to position Mr. Cantore and the dozen other anchors — most of them trained meteorologists with graduate degrees — who would be reporting from the field. The tension, as always, was how close they could get to the center of the storm without putting themselves in danger, or losing the ability to broadcast.
Even with the production support team — a roving fuel truck accompanied by a sport utility vehicle packed with food, water, underwear, socks, bug spray, batteries, hard hats and cash — it was a juggling act.