Major Nor'Easter Highlights the True Awfulness of Local News Websites

In a perfect world, you could go to your local television news website and get the latest snowfall forecast issued by their team of dedicated meteorologists. But that's a perfect world, and this one is a search engine optimized hell where interns bash one another over the head to come up with the most clickbaity title possible.

The imminent nor'easter of intergalactic origin is expected to drop significant amounts of snow over parts of the United States from Chicago through Maine and beyond into Canada. How much snow, you ask? That depends on whose forecast you trust, if you can even find one.

Meteorology is as much an art as it is a science. Each forecaster finds his or her "groove" and figures out which blend of the models works best to help craft an accurate forecast. If a forecaster believes that the NAM is performing better than the GFS this winter, he or she will place more weight on what the NAM says. Another forecaster could think exactly the opposite. Yet another could trust the ECMWF (Euro) over the American models and go with that one.

Based on this, you can understand why each forecasting outlet comes out with predictions slightly different from those issued by other organizations. This incongruity even occurs between National Weather Service forecast offices. Take a look at this morning's snowfall total forecast from the Buffalo, NY office and compare it to this morning's forecast from the office in Binghamton, NY. A quick jog across artificial county lines means the difference between a forecast of two feet or eight inches. That's a big leap.

The same thing happens with local news stations. People are making hay over competing stations in their respective television markets having different forecasts, but I'm noticing a different complaint start to pop up more often: where the hell are the forecasts?

Television news websites are increasingly less about finding local news and more about driving revenue for the parent company that owns them.

Several news stations don't feature snowfall forecasts at all, opting instead to publish vague winter storm references. Both WHAM and WHEC in Rochester are good examples of stations phoning it in for this storm.

WGN in Chicago opted instead to show the RPM (short-term, high-resolution) model to illustrate snowfall accumulations. My Fox Chicago published the NAM (North American Model) snowfall total on their Facebook page, with no mention on their website. NBC Chicago also went the model route, but did sneak in what I assume to be their own snowfall forecast about halfway through the autoplay video on the linked article.

And then there's Hearst.

Major Nor'Easter Highlights the True Awfulness of Local News Websites

Websites run by television stations owned by Hearst Stations, Inc. recently started presenting weather information in a godawful slideshow format that makes users sit and click through dozens upon dozens of images to get information easily presented in a single image or list.

WCVB Boston, WPTZ Burlington VT, and WMTW Portland ME are all in the path of this nor'easter, and they're all guilty of this ugly practice. The slideshow starts out by noting that the forecast is from one run of one computer model (seen to the left, and translated as "we chose the model showing the highest snowfall to get more social media shares") and makes you click through 59, 28, and 69 images, respectively, to see what each timestep of the model run shows. Each click through the slideshow loads another ad to the right of the images, and making it through every 10th slide pops up an animated ad that you have to close out to continue.

Holding information hostage in an ad-riddled slideshow format is great for both page clicks and ad impressions, but it's awful presentation and awful meteorology.

If you're going to get snow from this storm and you decide to get forecasts from your local news websites rather than the National Weather Service or another national organization, I have one bit of advice for you: download AdBlock and good luck.

[Screenshot via WPTZ-TV's website and disclaimer via WCVB-TV's website]