The Weather Channel plans to tally at least 188 consecutive live hours on Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath into this weekend — and the network's coverage is not just for people fascinated by eye walls and occluded fronts.
TWC has distinguished itself with its coverage of the unfolding humanitarian disaster, with its meteorologists appearing in hip-deep in flood waters like reporters at the general news networks. The network has aired rescues and alerted viewers to the worst of the flooding from the record-shattering tropical system.
Traditional news outlets have relied on water-logged correspondents to tell the story of Harvey and its aftermath. Network star power has been in short supply in Texas, with NBC "Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt the biggest name on the scene early.
CBS' Norah O'Donnell had a memorable report Tuesday from a Houston convention center stuffed with more than 9,000 people overnight, showing babies and others sleeping on the floor in a segment that asked tough questions about official preparedness.
News networks briefly changed focus of their coverage Tuesday — and broadcast networks broke into regular programming — when Air Force One touched down and President Donald Trump arrived in Texas. CNN, in particular, spent several minutes on John King's show talking about the ramifications of Trump's visit. The Weather Channel noted Trump's appearance in a small box on its screen, but largely kept its focus on the flooding.
The cable network has covered the story live around the clock since 5 a.m. ET on Friday and plans to continue until 1 a.m. Saturday, if it has wound down by then.
"What I've tried to do is not cede the story to anyone else once the forecasting has been done," said Nora Zimmett, senior vice president of programming at The Weather Channel.
Zimmett, a veteran news producer who worked at Fox News Channel during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was in the control room at CNN when Sandy devastated the New York metropolitan area in 2012, has brought a newswoman's sensibility as well as personnel from news operations with her when she joined The Weather Channel in 2014. She's also offered training to staffers who are already fascinated and expert in weather.
With the help of Rick Knabb, former director of the National Hurricane Center, TWC had mentioned the possibility of an epic rain event as early as last Tuesday, she said. That helped the network plan the logistics of deploying people in and around Houston early, at a time rivals were most concerned about where Harvey would make landfall from the Gulf of Mexico.
Landfall was significant for people in Rockport, Texas, but Zimmett said she knew the real story of Harvey was likely to be the ensuing floods.
Since Paul Goodloe began reporting from Corpus Christi last Thursday, TWC has sent its crew of stars in the weather world — people like Jim Cantore, Stephanie Abrams, Mike Seidel and Mike Bettes — with its total of 13 crews around the area.
Social media has changed the nature of disaster coverage since Katrina and Sandy, Zimmett said. It enables crews to keep on top of developing situations like rising floodwaters and rescues, and sometimes helps the reporters get there before harried public safety officials. She's embraced the public service role of The Weather Channel in helping people through difficult situations.
"Fox News taught me how to do great television," she said. "CNN taught me how to be a great journalist and The Weather Channel taught me to be a better humanitarian. I have never felt my motives have been more pure."
The network so far has avoided embarrassing incidents that have occurred with other network personalities.
ABC's Tom Llamas was scorched on social media for tweeting that he witnessed looting at a large supermarket in the northeast part of Houston. The Coast Guard and police then responded.
He was so widely criticized online for diverting official attention from more urgent matters, and showing little empathy for people caught in a desperate situation, that he later deleted his tweet.
Meanwhile, Fox News Channel's Jesse Watters apologized for a Monday night reference to "Sharknado" when he showed picture of a shark supposedly in Houston floodwaters. It was determined that he fell for an online hoax.
"I sincerely apologize if I caused concern or alarm to anyone," Watters tweeted on Tuesday.
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