What Makes a Good Weather Graphic?

Any good meteorologist must also be a good communicator. It is so incredibly important within this field to be able to effectively communicate the complex weather scenarios that occur over our heads. We as meteorologists must be able to relay important information to the general population in a way that everyone can understand and promptly respond to a potential coming threat. In this field it is very easy to get caught up in the science behind the weather; the complex physics and mathematics used to describe the inner workings of the atmosphere. It is our duty as meteorologists to take that information and display it in a way that anyone can use.

TV meteorologists sometimes get a “bad” reputation within the public due to the “getting paid to be wrong” mentality. Whatever you may believe about that, it cannot be argued that these people’s jobs are so important because they are the key link between the incredibly complex science used to describe and forecast the weather and the people who need to be able to prepare for said weather. It is a remarkably large task to undertake, but so much can be communicated through the use of an image. The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings so true within this field. Weather graphics have long been a passion of mine since I joined this wonderful community simply because they are an incredibly powerful tool. When done right, a weather graphic is capable of telling someone exactly what they need to know about what the atmosphere will send their way on a specific day. These images can also be wonderful pieces of art. The Weather Channel, for example, produces graphics that are incredibly pretty to look at, but also tell a meaningful and informative story about a complex weather scenario. A weather graphic can become a great mediator between a science filled to the brim with difficult topics used to describe the motions of the atmosphere to a community that is directly impacted by those motions. It is one of the best tools we have to help prevent the loss of life and property damage, the main goal of all meteorologists.

With all of that being said, just what makes a good weather graphic? What is the right balance between the science and the communication of the science? What audience are you trying to reach? Are their specific colors that work better than others? What sort of language will you use? How many words will you need to place within the graphic in order to convey the message you are trying to send? Questions like these must be answered when developing a good and compelling weather graphic, which leads to an incredibly difficult task. So much, or so little, can be said with the answers to all of these questions and more. Striving and obtaining a balance within a weather graphic is so very important because you have a limited time to relay the message you need to say. You must capture the attention of your audience and display the information in an understandable and compelling fashion within a timely manner. It is an absolute vital skill to have if you want to be successful within the realm of broadcast meteorology. It is the reason why a network like The Weather Channel, who prides itself on maintaining that balance, can exist and has been so successful throughout its history.

If all of that sounds hard, it is because it simply is. That is why I am curious to see what you think is a good weather graphic. Think of any and all weather broadcasts you may have seen over the past couple of months and try to remember anything from a graphic that may have stuck out to you. If you can’t think of any specifics, maybe try to think of what colors or words may have resonated with you the most. Please be sure to share what sticks out to you in a weather broadcast or specific examples in the comment section below!

To start things off, I will share one of the graphics I did during my internship with a local TV station a few summers ago (major thanks to WDBJ7 out of Roanoke for allowing me to learn so much from their incredible staff of meteorologists and for letting me use their awesome graphics tech):


I created this graphic to help display the “cold” snap our region would experience over the span of the coming week (it may not seem that “cold”, but this was made in the middle of July, so those temperatures were pretty below average for that time of year). I happen to love this graphic because of the colors. They really pop making it easier to draw your attention in. It also doesn’t say too much, meaning that it can be used to compliment what the meteorologist on screen is saying rather than just being something the meteorologist reads verbatim. While I like this graphic, I am curious to know what you think, so let me know in the comment section below (please be gentle). Thanks as always for tuning in and I cannot wait to see the weather graphics that you like!