Forecasting at the tip of the spear

Local meteorologist at the vanguard of a new industry paradigm.

Fred Campagna wasn’t looking to be a trendsetter, though he did want to be ahead of the curve. After 14 years in broadcast television as a meteorologist for the local ABC affiliate, he recognized that the television industry wasn’t moving quickly enough to keep up with society’s changing media consumption habits. Today, immediacy is key, especially where forecasting is concerned. He knew that it was time to strike out on his own, with a different kind of business model.

His clairvoyance aside, the truth is that Campagna was motivated by something much more basic, and far more important, than industry trends: his family. “It was a quality of life decision,” he says. “I was working late every night, and my kids were growing up so fast. Time was flying.”

Campagna decided to not let anymore time pass without making a change, and in August 2012 he launched Right Weather, an internet-based weather forecasting service: “The Right forecast, Right when you need it.”

Accessed through his website at rightweather.com, or Rightwx, a free app for iOS or Android, it has proven to be as nimble and flexible as the broadcast model is cumbersome and overly rigid for today’s media-hungry consumer.

As one of the first meteorologists in the Providence-New Bedford market to embrace social media, none of this surprises Campagna, whose Twitter and Facebook followers far outnumbered his former network’s market share long ago.

It’s a national trend, highlighted just last week in an article “The Search For The Internet’s Next Top Weather Nerd,” by Charlie Warzel on Buzzfeed. Warzel notes that internet-based weather has an interactive component to it that becomes indispensable when severe weather comes to call. In a natural disaster, the ability to access forecasting on demand could  have a tremendous impact on public safety.

Campagna’s business includes a number of private clients; primarily municipalities and large snow removal contractors with large crews, for whom an accurate and timely forecast has a very real impact on the balance sheet. “It’s a service that helps them run their business a lot more efficiently,” he says. “They tell me I’m a big reliever of stress.”

One criticism of the movement toward internet-based forecasting is the fact that, conceivably, anyone with access to the computer models that are the tools of the meteorologist’s trade, which is to say, everyone, can analyze them, come up with their own conclusions, and throw a forecast out there. We saw a perfect example of that in action last weekend, when Sunday blizzard rumors were on everyone’s lips, but unsupported by legitimate forecast sources. “That was a social media creation,” Campagna says. “It was actually a teenager in Philadelphia who saw the models and tweeted out what could happen. He was ‘wishcasting.’ Thing is, he has something like 15,000 Twitter followers, so it went viral.”

Campagna was not among the meteorologists who were annoyed by the false report — some going so far as to claim it was the equivalent of shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater. He knows it doesn’t reflect on his own credibility, something for which he has long been recognized. In his last year in broadcast television, before founding Right Weather, Campagna was certified most accurate in the Providence-New Bedford television market by Weatherate, an independent forecast verification service.

Accuracy is where the hard science of all the U.S. government’s computer models — as well as the ones from Canada, Europe, and Japan and elsewhere that factor into any forecast — gives way to witchcraft. Not literally, perhaps, but Campagna doesn’t have a much better explanation for how he manages to look at the same raw data that everyone else sees and create a forecast that is typically less imperfect than those by many in his industry. “I’ve done it so long, it’s kind of hard to say how I come up with it,” he says. “Calling it expert intuition makes it sound like I’m a little full of myself, but I don’t know what else to call it.”

However Campagna comes up with it, it’s working. He’s looking to expand his client base, and hoping to take on more institutional clients, like the many colleges and universities in the region. And he’s branching out into new areas and applications, most notably forensic meteorology, where he is routinely called upon to testify about the weather in court cases. Currently he is under contract with a production company that’s pitching a show about the discipline. Hopefully you won’t need Campagna to testify for you (or worse, against you) in a court of law. But you can still benefit from his expertise — and intuition — with a visit to www.rightweather.com.

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