Charlotte meteorologist Brad Panovich makes both of these happen and adds a third: educating people who don’t watch television. This is a remarkable mission, considering that the American Meteorological Society named Panovich the best broadcast meteorologist in the United States in 2018. And he makes his living by forecasting weather for the NBC Charlotte television station, WCNC.
Panovich is one of Charlotte’s most visible examples of how mainstream news organizations can create two-way relationships with consumers.
On his own time, Panovich explained weather in almost 60 elementary schools in 2018, carrying portable weather stations and tornado simulators along with him. He realizes that not everybody has time to watch television when he’s on it. He loves questions posed to him by viewers, but in his early days on social media, in 2009 and 2010, people didn’t believe they were actually interacting with him.
“They just thought it was some random person,” Panovich said in a recent interview. “I was like, ‘No, it’s actually Brad Panovich the meteorologist,’ and it just blew up, because it’s like ‘Inside Baseball’ to people. I was talking about things they weren’t hearing on TV. My thoughts and feelings about the hurricane center, forecast kind of stuff that wasn’t readily available in the public eye. So that form took off.”
Panovich posts so frequently on a daily basis, on so many platforms, that one wonders how he manages. He has 179,000 followers on Facebook, 80,000 on Twitter, and 29,000 on Instagram. Since starting on Twitter in 2009, he has posted more than 52,600 photographs or videos, and more than four times that many tweets.
Mobile phones, he said, simplify the process. He sees potential for smaller niche platforms, much like the way that ‘Charlotte Moms’ have their own sub-group within Facebook. Advertisers may have a smaller audience, he said, but the audience they need. He has thought about the potential for a personal app that aggregates the various forms of content he creates into one portal. For him, feedback and interaction provide the key value of social media.
“As much as I push out a lot of content that people enjoy, I enjoy what I get back,” Panovich said. “As a meteorologist in particular I’m staring at a lot of maps and radars and satellite. But when you get real-time ground reports from people, pictures and video, it’s like having eyes everywhere. The thing that makes weather my favorite science to talk about is that all of us have to experience it. We all walk outside. We’re going to touch, feel and breathe in the weather. So we have a first-hand experience with it and people can relate to you pretty quickly. They know they’re walking outside in the same rain that I’m walking in, in Charlotte.
“People sometimes have a misunderstanding of weather. TV has done a poor job over the years of simplifying it to the point where they just think it’s just a map and these big blue Hs and red Ls. What I’ve tried to do is peel back the layers a little bit and give people explanations for why it’s raining. That’s one thing that’s resonated as well is that I can explain something that’s a complex science. The atmosphere is not an easy thing to understand. Trust me — if you went through the calculus and physics, it’s not easy. But if I can put it in terms people can understand, that’s one thing I enjoy doing with social media as well. It’s not ‘dumbing down,’ it’s speaking the language of the people you’re talking to.”
Video edited by Alice Cristea, a Queens Knight School of Communication student intern at Digital Charlotte.