Talking TV: Amy Freeze On Fox Weather’s Busy First Year
The TV weather landscape felt some major atmospheric changes when Fox Weather debuted last October as a digitally centric new national competitor. A year later, the fledgling network has continued to widen its distribution footprint and the arsenal of forecasting and presentation tech it’s bringing to the fight.
Meteorologist Amy Freeze was there at the network’s launch and has scarcely seen a quiet moment since. She says the $15 billion in damage from major weather events across the U.S. makes clear that we’re in a new era, one that requires better preparation and hardening from all of us.
In this Talking TV conversation, Freeze explains what she thinks have been Fox Weather’s most important differentiators in its freshman year, lessons learned from covering massive storms like Hurricane Ian and how climate change is a key part of the conversation.
Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.
Michael Depp: Fox Weather rounded the corner of its first anniversary this week. The new network — or service or digital offering or FAST channel or all of the above, depending on your taxonomies — has caused a major change in the landscape of TV weather. Since its debut, Fox Weather has seen 2 million downloads of its app since the launch. It hired 100 new people for the service. Forty of them are meteorologists, and one of them is Amy Freeze, my guest today. In addition to her role as a meteorologist there, Amy is also presenting a special on the 10-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy on Fox Weather this week. And just to get this out there up front, she has the best name ever for someone doing the weather on TV, though I’m sure she’s absolutely sick of hearing about that from people.
Amy Freeze: Hi, Michael. I love that, thank you for the introduction. I love it. And you know what? I do like to talk about my name because it’s the one I was born with. My dad is Mr. Freeze. He’s passed down a long line of jokes to me, so it’s fine to talk about it and I love it. I know sometimes in television people make up their names or adjust their name, so maybe it’s easier for people to remember to say. But I was born this way.
That’s OK. Just like Lady Gaga says.
Thank you so much for having me.
Well, thanks for being here, Amy. It has been one year of Fox Weather to which you came from, I believe, WABC in New York. Not many people get to be there at the launch of a national weather channel. What has surprised you most about the experience?
I think what’s been probably the biggest headline for me in the last 12 months is how many weather events we have been covering. It’s just incredible. I mean, if you look at even just this year or 2022, there have been $15 billion weather events. These are disasters that cost $1 billion or more. So, these are major events. That is just looking at sort of 10 months of the year. We can even go back into our opening months where we had the atmospheric river. We were covering it, the Pacific Northwest. We had huge, severe storms across portions of the Midwest late into last year. So, I think the overwhelming headline for me as Fox Weather’s debuted is the amount of significant weather we have been able to cover.
You had an immediate baptism by fire essentially when you launched. You also launched with a lot of very fancy weather tools in your arsenal there. Which ones have been the real differentiators for you in terms of being able to give something that’s really unique to your audience?
Well, without a question, the Fox Weather app is the No. 1 thing because that puts weather at people’s fingertips. And it’s an app that allows people to use real time weather data. It also allows you to forecast like never before because we’re giving you long-term forecasting data within that app. And it also gives you within like two seconds of opening the app, a stream of weather coverage of whatever major events going on. And we also have weather across America.
So, it kind of does all the things that people would like to have at their fingertips at once. I think that piece of technology is vital. It’s unlike anything else. The other thing that’s been pretty important for us is the Fox Weather model, which is forecasting a set of data that allows us to forecast where the storms are going to be next, where they are going to be the most powerful. And that was a really efficient tool for us in Hurricane Ian.
And Fox Weather has gotten a nice push out of the gate by being simulcast weekend mornings on Fox Business from 6 to 9 a.m. Eastern. I understand you’ve also occasionally cross-pollinated content with Fox News around major weather events. I’m sure that you get a lot of anecdotal feedback from viewers, but I wonder how are they telling you that they’re finding this channel?
You know, it’s pretty surprising to me. Even today during the livestream, I had people texting me, I’m thinking of livestream that they’re watching now on Fios. So, they’re catching it and discovering it for the first time in different places. Everybody these days has their favorite way that they like to watch, whether it’s on their phone, whether it’s their smart TV through different apps, everything from Tubi to YouTube TV. I mean, my kids watch pretty much everything through YouTube TV. And so, when they turn it on at the house, that’s how it comes up. Other people are finding it traditionally through some of the cable outlets that we’re accessing. I think people are finding it in a variety of ways.
But the incredible part of this is that even when you have a storm, you’re able to access the stream on your phone. Whereas you think about it, in times past, when a major weather event comes, it typically knocks out the power. Right. You have a hurricane, a tornado, even a big wind event. A big snowstorm can take down the power lines. You’re not getting electricity. You can’t watch your cable or your TV anymore. So now we’re able to be with people during the storms. And that is something that is a new evolution of the way people are receiving weather. Whatever brand they’re getting it through, they’re able to get it now right when they want it and when they might need it the most.
This week you’ve got a special looking at the 10th year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy — hard to believe it’s 10 years — and basically what we’ve learned and how we’ve evolved from the impact of that storm. What have you learned about forecasting and weather coverage from that experience?
Well, I think we’ll walk away from not only the experience of covering Sandy, but also after having gone back and revisited a lot of the stories and a lot of the changes is that how important personal responsibility is when it comes to storms. A lot of times we aren’t as vigilant as we should be about what’s happening around us. A lot of times we think someone else is going to tell us. But when we live in a world where we’re experiencing superstorms and weather is more serious than ever before, we have to have a personal engagement in what’s happening with those storms.
So that brings us back to having weather at your fingertips or knowing what the weather is about. Of course, understanding your evacuation zones if you live in flood prone areas, those are all very, very important. The other big takeaway, I think, from looking at Superstorm Sandy, is that what this storm did was put everybody in agreement that we need to pay attention to how we’re going to prepare. There are lots of different ideas or you might say arguments that people want to talk about if a storm is going to evolve or how big it’s going to be or what caused it or what’s exaggerating storms.
But the bottom line that we could all walk away from Superstorm Sandy is that there needs to be preparation for the storms that happen. And that goes from the highest levels of government right down to what you are going to do as an individual. So, the overriding agreement is that we all have to pay attention to preparation and in my book, that all starts with what’s happening in your own home.
You think people are taking it more seriously then? Once they’ve experienced it firsthand, they are finally changing their behaviors?
Absolutely. Those that are deepest touched when a tragedy comes through. When people see those stories, it really does start to hit home for them. When I was doing this, revisiting some of the stories, I’m seeing grown men cry about a storm that happened a decade ago because the loss was so great, because the invasion of a natural disaster was so impactful for their lives. So, I think when people experience that, they definitely take it seriously. And I think even when you see someone being affected like that, you start to think, could it happen to me?
Fox Weather has certainly been tested often and hard by the country’s weather since your launch and most recently by Hurricane Ian. What were your takeaways from that experience in terms of what worked and what you would do differently there in response to the inevitable next major storm?
I’ll go right out of the gate saying the thing I’m most proud of with Hurricane Ian is our ability to forecast accurately the landfall of Ian. Other entities might have done a projection sooner or whatever, but it was not the precise and accurate thing. And accuracy is really important when it comes to talking about forecasts and talking about what’s happening during the forecast.
The other thing that really was incredible with our Hurricane Ian coverage is not just the forecasting about when, where and what was going to happen, but the fact that we had people in place as the storm was coming in. During the storm itself, we had coverage of these just intense wild conditions from Hurricane Ian, and then we were there as the evolution of this disaster was happening. I mean, we had teams that were on air for, it seems like 24 hours or more straight talking about the storm. And that proceeded to stay in place for about a week afterwards. So, we did have a lot of eyewitnesses along with the forecasting that went with it.
So that’s what you see as what worked. What about what you do differently or what you’re learning about what has to change, perhaps, in reporting major events like that?
I think one of the things that could change that might make us better at what we’re doing is interaction. And it’s tricky when it comes to weather. What I mean by interaction is getting the ground truth, getting reports from people and understanding what’s happening where they are during the storm. But that always puts a border where we had a borderline here, a teeter totter, if you will, because safety is an issue. When it comes to snowstorms, it’s a little bit easier to be more interactive with viewers and see what that’s happening with their snow and see what the conditions are like, where they are.
When it comes to hurricanes, tornadoes, it’s not as easy to have interaction. So, I think that’s one thing I’d like to do better is have an interactive experience. We are looking at some things that we could do on our app that would allow people to give real time results of what’s happening where they are, which would make it a more interactive sort of a storm report back of what’s going on where people are. So, I’d love to see more interactivity.
Is the era of the weather reporter standing amid blowing objects ever going to come to an end or are people being more cautious about where they position themselves in hurricanes like that?
I think it’s definitely a science. I’ve been out on the road. I’ve done tornado chasing. I’ve been there for hurricane coverage on the East Coast. And to me, that is a whole profession in itself. We have Robert Ray, who has, in my opinion, perfected the science of chasing storms and being in the storms because the safety factor is so important. And he’s just done a great job of being able to know where to be, be in the right place at the right time and then move from that place so that he’s not in harm’s way.
I think it’s going to be around forever because when you tell people to evacuate, they want to see what’s happening where they left their things behind. So, unless we get some kind of drone that can survive the storm or we have robots that are able to endure the conditions, I think that’s the only thing that could take that away. And even then, it’s still not the same as seeing how difficult it is for a normal person to withstand some of these conditions.
You’ve got to see it to believe it. I guess. Fox Weather heralded basically a new era in competitiveness in national TV weather. Would you care to forecast what may happen in the space over the next couple of years? Is there room for multiple national superpowers there?
I think there’s room for everybody because weather is so expansive. I mentioned this before, but I think it’s a really powerful headline that we’ve had $15 billion disasters in less than a year’s time. That effect and impact on people, our economy and business is, as you know, it’s without end in its reach. So, we’ve got enough weather to cover, that’s for sure. And I think that the difference will be how people consume it and their taste and what they’re consuming. Do they want just forecasting? Do they want to see what’s happening during the storm or do they want a combination of all those things? And the Fox brand is the thing that can bring all of those to the table in just one visit.
So, whether you’re tuning in on a Fox platform or you’re choosing Fox Weather, you’re going to get what’s happening with the forecast because that’s how the reach goes. That’s the thing that separates the competition, how powerful the brand is. But I definitely think there’s room in the space for everybody that’s here now and more competition to come on board.
And given the enormity of the price tags on these events you’re talking about here, and that’s just a year since your launch, are you talking about climate? Is climate coming into this and overall climate change, is that coming into the narrative of the weather?
Absolutely. Climate is a part of the everyday conversation of what’s going on. I think we spend a lot less time, though, right now on in-depth climate research or maybe the argumentative portions of what’s going on with the climate conversation. And we spend a lot more time on what’s currently happening and what people are doing about it, because solution-based conversations about the climate really go the furthest.
Some of the things that people want to talk about at length are really so far from the solutions and so far about how we have to move forward, that it’s kind of, it’s not as important. The thing that is important is what are the changes that are happening right now and what are the innovative ways people are working across America, coast to coast, to adapt to these changes? I mean, when you completely have to rebuild southwest Florida and the barrier islands, you’ve got to do it in a way that now we’re starting with a clean slate that we’re prepared for what we know is forecasted to happen.
Hardening the infrastructure, right?
Exactly. We’re changing the way we live on barrier islands. We may be relinquishing some of that space and realizing that we should be back a little further. Maybe we should be building a little higher. Maybe we should be building infrastructure that may or may not withstand a storm. And we’re OK with that because we can walk away from it. Maybe if we built things that we were able to walk away from, we wouldn’t have a hard time evacuating. We wouldn’t have as hard of a time when it all has to be started over. So, if you’re willing to live to next to the coastline, maybe you’re willing to live a little bit more fragile or, you know, fragile because, you know, you can up and leave when a threat comes.
Well, insurers certainly believe that. I’m sure at this point for sure. Amy Freeze, I will let you get back to it. Congratulations on a year of Fox Weather and good luck weathering the storms ahead.
Thank you so much. I appreciate the questions and thanks for spending some time with us.
Thanks to all of you for watching and listening and see you next time.