Pa. station debuts new set for severe weather coverage

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WNEP, the ABC affiliate in ScrantonWilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, has debuted a new indoor weather center space — but it is still sticking with its iconic outdoor forecast studio.

Dubbed the new “Stormtracker 16 Weather Center,” the new space sits opposite of the station’s main set and features several large screens and a U-shaped desk with five workstations.

The new digs debuted on air July 11, 2023. Prior to this, the station had a weather “office” in an alcove adjacent to the newsroom with two workstations. 

In this 2017 photo, WNEP meteorologist Joe Snedeker uses The Backyard outdoor weather studio’s chroma key wall, which is hidden inside a shed-like structure. 

WNEP is unique in that it does the majority of its weather segments outside in what’s known as “The Backyard.” This outdoor weather studio features flood lighting, a stone patio, landscaping and water feature.

There is also a shed-like structure with a rolling barn door with a chroma key wall inside.

The space is shot using a robotic camera set up in a small, purpose-built room with a window that can be opened during broadcasts. The camera is positioned so that it can capture meteorologists at the key wall or in full shots that allow current conditions to appear on air.

Select segments are also captured with a handheld camera.

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The new space in the main studio is also designed to serve as a primary workspace for the forecasters as well, though a single workstation remains in the newsroom, primarily for morning meteorologist Joe Snedeker. This will keep him closer to the door that connects to The Backyard. Another source said there were also concerns about the forecaster, who is known for his over-the-top personality, remaining quiet when he’s not on the air.

One disadvantage of the new location is that it’s now a bit more of a circuitous route from the studio to the backyard, according to sources. The station reportedly investigated adding a door that would give forecasters more direct access, but it wasn’t doable due to how the building was engineered. 

This 2017 photo shows the weather office off the newsroom. It has been changed slightly since then, but is largely the same.

The old indoor weather center, meanwhile, was lit and wired for live broadcasting as an alternative weather presentation spot in the event of severe weather. The station could do digital or over the air cut-ins without the control room from this location as well.

Joe Snedeker standing on the opposite side of the weather office with the newsroom in the background. Much of the broadcast lighting for the weather center is located just out of frame of this photo, taken in 2017. The newsroom itself is used for live shots and some of the lighting for that is visible in the background.

According to sources, the new space allows forecasters to broadcast without any direct intervention from its remote master control, meaning they can be on the air faster.

The expanded space allow allows for more collaboration between the weather team during severe weather events as well as interaction with anchors, though that hasn’t been shown off yet.

WNEP began using the new space for live weather bumps July 11 to showcase the new space, including the new monitors display live camera feeds, a “situational awareness” board and weather graphics. The main forecasts continued to be delivered from outdoors. 

Station sources say the space was assembled using repurposed office furniture. A new backlit sign features branding and the station brought in freestanding faux stone panels placed strategically in the gaps between the video panels to create feel that the space has more structure to it than it does.

In reality, the black spaces that appear on-camera are actually showing the studio draping.

Despite the introduction of the new weather center, WNEP is being careful to point out that it is not abandoning outdoor weather. Producers and meteorologists have been briefed on driving home that point, according to sources.

Instead, the station sees the new weather center as being devoted to severe weather coverage and giving it valuable tools to keep viewers safe.

The move comes after WNEP added a low-profile video wall to its studio back in February 2023. This gave the station a new presentation area for both anchors and sports as well as an updated way to handle tosses to the backyard, after years of using various visual effects to create the latter.

The station has also started using the wall for “video on video” teases that also show off Camera 1. That camera, incidentally, is the same one that, when flipped around, captures the new weather center. 

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WNEP uses three PTZ robotic cameras and the weather center is positioned so Cam 1 can capture both the CR anchor one-shot and meteorologist without moving the ped. 

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