Bay Area weather forecasters have big influence on tourism |

Bay Area weather forecasters have big influence on tourism

Imagine this: A big storm is moving in from the Pacific Ocean, a forecaster in the Bay Area predicts blizzard conditions across the Sierra Nevada and thousands of potential Lake Tahoe visitors decide to stay home for the weekend. Then the storm moves somewhere else and the weather at Tahoe is beautiful.

It is a missed opportunity for Lake Tahoe businesses.

“The problem arises for us when we’re sitting up here in Lake Tahoe and the storm doesn’t materialize, or it drops 2 to 3 inches instead of 2 to 3 feet,” said John Packer, communications manager for Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. “When storms hit the mountains, you never know what they are going to do.”

“What I object to is that they almost never express uncertainty,” said Tim Cohee, president of Kirkwood Ski Resort. “And if the guy’s wrong, he just cost us a lot of customers.”

Weather forecasters throughout the United States, and especially in the Bay Area, can have a significant impact on tourism at Lake Tahoe, and that is why local tourism officials want one type of reporting from meteorologists – accurate reporting.

“All we want is accurate reporting, with up-to-date, real-time information,” said Phil Weidinger of Weidinger Public Relations, which handles public relations for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. “Obviously, we don’t want people coming up here in harrowing conditions, but we don’t want them staying home if the weather is nice here, either.”

Weather officials are aware of their influence.

“I think people have become very sensitive to our forecasts,” said Bill Martin, chief meteorologist for KTVU in Oakland. “What people are concerned about is the drive up. They don’t care if they get up there and it snows, but if they get a hint that the 3 1/2- or 4-hour drive home is going to take 5 or 6 or even 8 hours, they’re not coming. People watch weather reports very closely.”

Martin said he agrees that accurate reporting is the answer to the problem.

The biggest problem, according to local officials, is when weather forecasters contribute “editorial comments” in addition to the facts, urging people to stay away because of the weather.

“There are people out there who may be a little overzealous in their reports,” Packer said. “I would say the people who add their own editorials are in the minority.”

Martin said KTVU is aware that forecasters comments can influence people and tries to avoid it.

The overall problem, most South Shore officials agree, has improved.

Technology is more advanced, ski resorts have increased communication with news channels and a Lake Tahoe program called Operation Sierra Storm has grown in recent years, drawing forecasters from all around the country to meet with tourism and transportation officials at a conference at Tahoe once a year.

Designed to open the lines of communication between agencies such as the state departments of transportation, ski resorts, visitors organizations and the media, this year’s event will be held at the North Shore on Jan. 6 and 7. Operation Sierra Storm has evolved over the years, Weidinger said, and now includes forecasters from all over the country coming, as well as live broadcasts that draw attention to Tahoe.

“It’s a tough issue. I think it’s getting better,” Packer said. “I think a lot of the credit should go to Operation Sierra Storm. (Weather forecasters) have become more sensitive to our situation as a tourist area.”

Although the situation has improved, it is not an issue Lake Tahoe officials can ignore.

“It’s ongoing. It’s always getting better, but there are always changes,” Weidinger said. “Different people are coming and going; there are always new players. We try to make sure everyone is updated.”

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