Hurricane Florence: Lessons Learned

The past week has been a harrowing time for many local broadcasters and the communities they serve.  Preparing for Hurricane Florence paid off for many SmithGeiger clients all across the East Coast.  The lessons they learned (and will learn over the coming days) are worth review.  If your station covers Hurricanes, Tornadic Weather, Wildfires, Flooding, Blizzards, or Ice Storms, we think you can find value in reviewing the following with your Weather, News, Digital, & Marketing teams.

Top 10 Reminders
1.  First: it’s critical we reinforce our ability to let you know of any new developments first; promote it, work that promise into copy and promotional/POP elements
2.  Selling New: always look for opportunities to talk about any new data or models
3.  Planning: amid our big-picture model tracking, don’t forget to show people what will be happening hour-by-hour as well; stop and start our Futurecast at key times
4.  Mets: keep them very active digitally (consider boosting some of their posts)
5.  Visuals & Live: don’t get “stuck inside” at the wall; leverage and showcase as many live feeds as possible on-air, on the App, and socially
6.  Alert Day(s): incorporate this ASAP; on the 7-day and coordinated on all platforms
7.  Digital: load-up our newscasts with specific App mentions (beyond just teases in tags); plan live weathercast/newscast streams during off-air hours; assign a Social Meteorologist
8.  App Alerts: the appetite for push alerts goes-up significantly during severe weather
9.  UGC: be overt in asking for and showcasing UGC; consider a digital anchor role
10. OTT: explain how it will work even when “rain fade” impacts satellites


Top 10 App Download Keys
1.  Do a paid Facebook app download campaign.
2.  Mention your weather app virtues specific to hurricane related needs.  This could be weather content or hurricane prep content that you have. 
3.  Drive the app as being powered by your team of hurricane experts.  Give them specific roles they have in supporting the app experience. 
4.  Give Mets time in the newscasts to talk about the app.  Consider creating short packages/long bumps that weather team members can reference. 
5.  Have the apps specifically mentioned in ALL hurricane related content.
6.  Encourage your staff to say they have the app and are using it right now.
7.  Do more promos on air, making sure it isn’t a generic app download campaign.
8.  Tell the audience that hundreds or thousands have downloaded the app to have the very latest on the tracks of storms headed our way. 
9.  Proof your apps in newscasts and weather including any push notifications.  Mention how you are going to have this capability to warn during a hurricane. 
10. Track your app downloads and talk about the focus, the different responsibilities, and the reviews you are getting each day in the AM editorial meetings. 


Following up:

  • Constantly recap the headlines during continuing coverage. In long stretches of live reporting and weathercasts the viewer needs a sense of HERE’S WHERE WE ARE, HERE ARE THE HEADLINES.  Big picture — not just individual snapshots.
  • Keep mapping where reporters are live.  Not everyone knows where all the towns are in the viewing area — and what their relationship is to each other, to rivers, and to the ocean (or gulf).
  • Be granular — not general — about estimates for rain and winds.  Better to link those metrics to individual towns vs. regions.
  • Beware of lulls in user-generated content.  Often, the live reporting and weather hits dominate the coverage—and pictures and video from viewers get underutilized. 
  • Assign someone to be the “consumer advocate” — and focus their efforts on things like insurance tips, how to get a generator, and how to avoid gas gauging.   Push to digital for even greater detail.
  • Provide live coverage on digital—even if you’re not going wall-to-wall over the air.


More Lessons Learned:

  • Social media can set up/showcase your coverage
  • Build graphics to: 
    • Provide perspective
    • Explain impact
    • Impart life-saving call-to-action advice
    • Showcase your team & tools
  • Mine social media for tip/tricks
  • Provide historical perspective


A major HT (hat tip for those not social savvy) to my colleagues Andrew Finlayson, Jacques Natz, and Chris Archer as they provided numerous examples to their stations during their Florence coverage and for this article!


The Weather Channel on Instagram asking for UGC and showcasing slideshows



Showcasing Team Coverage – All Platforms




Providing Perspective/Impact to Forecasted Rainfall & Storm Surge




Highly Shareable Graphics Providing Size Perspective




Create Multi-Platform Plans for Storm Chasers



3D and AR Graphics Help Tell the Story



Show the Different Ways to Show the Path 

  • Cone of Uncertainty
  • Spaghetti Models
  • Risk assessments



Timing with Cone of Uncertainty



Showcase Storm Vehicle as a Broadcast Center



Life-Saving Reminders



Provide Historical Perspective with Chief Met


Mine Social Media for Tip/Tricks