“It’s like Thunder, Lightning, Severe Weather is Frightening:” How Harsh Weather Conditions Impact Local News Viewership
Peak hurricane season is here. And already, we’ve had several hurricanes threatening the U.S.: Hurricane Lane had a close encounter with Hawaii, and Hurricane Florence landed a devastating blow to the Carolinas and the Southeast.
In times of crisis, it’s critical for people to maintain a certain sense of security – and this often comes from being well-informed. We’ve always believed that local news is the most trusted source for updates on pending weather conditions during times of crisis. To put this hypothesis to the test, we examined how severe weather patterns – namely rainfall, heat levels, and snowfall – impact local news viewership.
This is what we found:
We started by looking at the last Category Four hurricane, Harvey. Comparing the rainfall during the Hurricane to the household ratings for two Houston stations, we found that both rainfall and viewership peaked on the same day, showing that there is a strong correlation between local news viewership and the hurricane’s trajectory.
As Harvey made landfall on August 25, 2017, the household ratings for one local station in Houston (Local Station 1) increased by an astounding 80 percent and for another local station (Local Station2), spiked by nearly 40 percent throughout the day. Harvey’s most intense weather conditions came into full effect over Houston two days later on August 27, at which point 12.28 inches of torrential rains drenched the city. During these intense rains, the household ratings for the two local TV stations peaked at around 10 percent viewer engagement city-wide. Not only was the correlation between household TV ratings and Hurricane Harvey apparent during the start and peak of the storm, but viewership returned to standard levels as the storm eased.
Next, we took a look at the heat wave that descended on the Los Angeles area this past July and compared it to household ratings for two local television stations in the region.
On July 6, 2018, multiple records were broken as temperatures soared. According to the National Weather Service, Woodland Hills and the area near the Van Nuys Airport reached all-time highs of 117 degrees Fahrenheit, the area by the Burbank airport climbed to 114 degrees, and downtown Los Angeles peaked at 108 degrees. These record-breaking temperatures were, on average, 38 percent higher than the temperatures a week prior, and interestingly, mirrored the increase in household ratings – up 35 percent for one L.A. station (Local Station 1) and 33 percent for another L.A. station (Local Station 2). One week following the hellish heatwave, temperatures and viewership simultaneously returned to average.
Finally, we examined the blizzard that covered Boston during the first two weeks of March 2018 and compared the intensity of snowfall to Boston’s local news viewership.
On March 13, 2018, Boston was slammed with 14.5 inches of snow in one fell swoop. As the city geared up for the “snowpocalypse,” more and more Bostonians turned to their local stations for information. From March 10 to the day of the storm, household ratings rose by 56 percent for one local station (Local Station 1) and by 100 percent for another local station (Local Station 2). Similar to Houston’s hurricane and Los Angeles’ heatwave, household ratings for both stations returned to average levels as the severity of the storm lessened.
Season’s May Change
Be it rain, snow or heat, the trend is clear: people turn to their local news channels as go-to sources for information during moments of harsh weather conditions.