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The Eric Factor: Behind the scenes in the morning

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Weather is my passion. Ask my parents and they’ll tell you it’s always been that way. And it better be since I get up from bed in the middle of the night for my chance to study it.

I recently got an email from a viewer named “Bob” who asked a question about television weather people. “I realize you are on air for a shorter time period than you prepare for your spots.   Do you put in a 40-hour week in general? Is this a full-time job or do weather people have to supplement income with an additional job? Just curious.”

Great questions, Bob! And honestly, the time spent on the job has changed in the 16 years I’ve been in this career field. When I got my first morning gig about 15 years ago at KLTV in Tyler, Texas, the morning show had just expanded to one hour. I came in at 3:45am which would give me enough time forecast and make graphics before our live show. After that, we taped our Good Morning America tid-bits and then I was off work by 9am. Not a bad gig, working 5 hour days. And I was so lucky to be given a very nice salary.

Things changed with the advent of websites, radio partnerships, social media, and earlier shows. Nowadays we start “Good Morning Quad Cities” at 4:30am and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we begin a half hour earlier.

But 4:30am is not when I arrive at work. Here’s a look at the timeline of my daily routine:

1:25am – My first alarm goes off. Luckily for me, I live within a five minute walk of WQAD. That means I’m showered, dressed, and at work by 2:15am – I’m usually pretty grumpy unless I went to bed before 6:30pm the night before.

2:15am – Arrive at WQAD! Believe it or not, I am not even the first person at the station. Good Morning Quad Cities has three news producers, usually arriving just after the 10pm newscast is over. Here, Kristy and Elyse are getting ready. Toria, our other producer has the day off. After quick “Hello,” it’s off to the dark weather center. 10

2:20am – It’s dark in here!12

2:50am – Thirty minutes may not seem like much time to forecast the weather, but honestly it gets easier as the days go by. Mondays are the hardest. Fridays are the easiest.  If I am ahead of schedule, I may work ahead on some graphics.1311
2:55am – Walk into the newsroom and record radio weather. We are on KROS in the Clinton, Iowa area each morning. Recording takes less than five minutes and I make sure I am on time so our editors can get into the edit bay by 3am.1
3:00am – Upstairs to the break room to brew the first pot of coffee! This also allows me to see the top stories on “World News Now” which is on the TV up there. Sometimes there’s an urge to grab something to eat.

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3:05am – Back to the weather center where I build the weather graphics for the day. On most days, I come up with my graphics ideas the day before. Today, I made a graphic about the increasing daylight. Yesterday, I added up how much snow we’ve gotten so far this Winter. My ideas usually come to me the day before and that’s good so I can do some of the “grunt work” during the previous day’s “News 8@11.” There’s no one to build these things for us, so it’s important that Meteorologists have an eye for detail and keep an open, creative mind.4
3:40am – Time to get dressed! I keep all of my suits behind the Weather Center. I believe in staying comfortable through my workday and this also keeps my suits clean from that winter gunk outside. (And no photos of me dressing.)
3:45am – First weathercast of the day is at 3:45! This one-minute long weathercast airs on the Quad-City Times website. Occasionally, when the weather is bad I’ll also put it on my social media channels.
3:50am – Two more weathercasts right away! We record two three-minute weathercasts that air on Channel 8-3. We run “Eye-Opener,” a national version of “Good Morning America” that runs at the same time GMQC is on Channel 8. These local cut-ins air several times through the morning.

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4:00am – Still a half hour to showtime! But a lot more to do. Honestly, this is when I can breathe a sigh of relief. If my graphics work and make sense, we are good-to-go! Sometimes I’ll change around the order of graphics so it better tells my weather story.
4:10am – Update the forecast you see on the bottom-left corner of the TV screen. There are about ten different cities…so it is tedious!
4:15am – Update WQAD.COM forecast. The text of our forecast is important as I also copy and paste it into our closed-captioning system for our viewers who are hearing impaired.
4:20am – Time to put together the WeatherKid! That airs at 4:55 so this gives me a half hour to get it done.3
4:30am – Our live broadcast starts! Thankfully, all of my graphics are almost done. So it’s time to have fun!
4:45am – Finish up the WeatherKid and make sure it is exported to WQAD.COM. Also, upload the Quad-City Times weathercast that I recorded an hour earlier.
5:00am – Between 5 and 6 in the morning, I usually put together a special weather story that sits on top of WQAD.COM. Research has shown that most people who visit our website are in search of accurate weather information first thing in the morning so I try to get something right into the top story.
7:00am – Good Morning America starts! But that doesn’t mean it’s time for a break. We do all local news and weather “snippits” live. Nothing is pre-taped on WQAD. That means we have to be ready when Ginger or Rob toss to “the weather where you live.”
9:00am – Finally time for a break. And by this time, the dogs probably need to go out. (Again, lucky I live so close to work!)
10:00am – Back to the grind to see how the forecast is working out. Some tweaks can be made online and to my weather graphics before the 11am newscast.
11:00am – News8@11 is an hour-long newscast. While I am attentive to what the current weather story is, I’m also thinking ahead to the next morning’s show.
12:00pm – Another half hour or so wrapping up work-stuff. Sending emails, interacting on social media, and talking with producers and managers about future shows and shifts. Pushing “publish” on this news story, even!
12:30pm – Home, sweet home. But even in my relaxation, I’m always thinking about what’s next…and what people might want to see in the morning. Weather really doesn’t leave my thought-bubble until Friday afternoon.

I haven’t figured out how to streamline my workday to get it down to a 40-hour work week. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. I love the weather. I love making graphics. I love telling people what the weather is (hopefully with a laugh).
This is a changing business. In five years, things will change a lot. In fact, I see a future where people aren’t necessarily watching on TV sets anymore. (Think apps, tablets, phones, etc.) And I bet you’ll be able to customize your own newscast and have it automatically play. I think that’s something to watch for, even in 2016!

Keep the questions coming in like Bob the New Year! I’ll find time to write…I promise. I love the interaction. It helps me since I stand here talking to an inanimate object all morning!2eric

-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen