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Local TV meteorologists prep for hurricane season

As Tropical Storm Fay turns TV viewers' attention to weather reports, WTSP-Ch. 10 plans to let go meteorologist Anna Allen and demote forecaster Randy Rauch from on-air work.

So WTSP will be shuffling forecasters during hurricane season, when local stations compete hardest for viewers tracking storm systems.

The moves come during a year of change on the local weather scene, ranging from the unexpected death of WTSP chief meteorologist Dick Fletcher in February to the layoff of WFLA-Ch. 8 forecaster Mace Michaels earlier this year.

Allen, 43, confirmed she would be leaving the station Sept. 5, following WTSP's decision to exercise an option by terminating her contract early. Rauch also confirmed he would be demoted soon from on-air work, replaced by colleague Sherry Ray.

WTSP general manager Sam Rosenwasser declined to comment on the changes, beyond insisting that the station, which has three meteorologists, will not dip below that number. He said the station plans "very soon" to announce Fletcher's successor, but wouldn't give a specific date.

"We have a very strong team of meteorologists here and we expect that to continue," said Rosenwasser of WTSP, which pre-empted the Dr. Phil show to present storm coverage from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday evening.

Tampa Bay area TV meteorologists stepped up coverage Monday, preparing for continuous broadcasts if the storm worsened, loading their station Web sites, digital channels and mobile alert systems with information.

WFLA and WFTS-Ch. 28 also have teams of three on-air meteorologists. WFTS news director Chris Jadick said three people can do the job of covering weather emergencies. "We've got some of best people in the business working here," he said.

Fox station WTVT-Ch. 13 and cable newschannel Bay News 9 each have five on-air meteorologists. The cable channel also called in former chief meteorologist Alan Winfeld on Monday to help. The station was continuously focused on Fay beginning at 5 a.m. "We expect to be live all night long," said general manager Terry Dolan. "This is what we do."

On Monday afternoon, WTSP's Rosenwasser was weighing whether to pre-empt prime-time programming for storm coverage. "No matter what we do we can get blamed," he said. "We're just trying to be careful and keep things in proportion."

At WTVT, chief meteorologist Paul Dellegatto was marveling at the traffic on the station's weather-centered Web site myfoxhurricane.com, which had nearly 3-million page-views by midday Monday.

"Go back to the days of Roy Leep and this station has always had a reputation for having a great weather department," said Dellegatto. (Leep retired as WTVT's chief meteorologist in 1997 after 40 years.) "I'm just glad the station continues to make that commitment."

Eric Deggans can be reached at deggans@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.

Local TV meteorologists prep for hurricane season 08/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 21, 2008 9:01pm]
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