Eyes on the Skies: Inside the News 3 Weather Team

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Severe weather is always on the horizon, and when it peeks over, meteorologists go into overdrive. For the News 3 Weather Team, those moments have to bring out their best because lives are at stake.

The forecasting of severe weather starts days in advance. Crunch time for the News 3 Weather Team comes a few hours before the event.

Information from the National Weather Service, the Storm Prediction Center and others is analyzed by the entirity of the team.

"We'll look over their data and see exactly what they have, and we'll actually look at data of our own," said Rodney Harris, one of News 3's four meteorologists. "The same model they look at, we'll look at it, and we'll make our own analyses."

"We also want to know what meteorological parameters are in place," added Meteorologist Shane Motley, "whether it's going to enhance the storm or whether that storm will rotate and produce a tornado."

But of course, the storms eventually arrive, meaning the team has to decide just the right time to hit the airwaves with critical information.

"We're not going to wait until the activity gets in those counties," said Chief Meteorologist Bob French. "Hopefully we will already have the word out that a severe thunderstorm is expected to be in that county within the next 30 minutes.

"There are a lot of things that take a lot of hands and a lot of eyes to not only operate, but keep track of everything that we've got coming in," French added.

Dozens of pieces of equipment are lit up through the weather center at News 3. Maybe chief among them is the radar.

"That Doppler effect allows us to actually see what the winds are doing in the storm, and that's key," Motley said. "Every single scan that comes in is critical, and we have to look at every single scan to find out if something has changed."

"Lots of times, big storms can help spawn smaller storms, and those smaller storms can get bigger," said Meteorologist Mark Edwards, "so we have to keep an eye not only on the big blobs of yellow, but the little blobs, too."

Broadcast cut-ins during the event are another essential element during severe weather. The presentation has to be as fluid as the severe event itself, and that means updating information and analysis.

In the case of a cut-in, the person "on the weather wall" has their full attention focused on the images around them, pointing out large storm cells and their projected paths. But if there are changes to report, someone has to bring them to the wall.

"I can see if Shane or Rodney or Mark or a news person is trying to get my attention to show me something on screen," French said. As chief, he is most often the face of severe weather coverage, though the other three do their fair share.

"It makes whoever's on the wall a lot more comfortable knowing all the data is still being collected in the background," said Harris.

"A lot of people get a little upset when we break in and we interrupt their favorite program," Edwards said, "but if we're saving one life and annoying 5,000 others, then we apologize to the 5,000, but we're pleased as punch about the one."

Crawls also often appear on screen. Many are automated. When a watch or warning comes down, the SkyWarn system puts out the information.

"That will automatically come out, and we can also customize it as well," Harris said. "If we feel the need to issue a crawl for something that's going on, we can do it on our own."

No matter what the task -- and there are many -- no matter what the situation -- and they are limitless -- severe weather events call for the best and the brightest to come forward.

"If we make an error and do not forecast this thing correctly, it could have drastic implications on people's lives and cause a lot of damage," said Motley.

"Fortunately, I get that extra rush of energy," added French. "We know it's got to take our full focus and energy."