One meteorologist’s superpower: augmented reality

How Univision’s main weather anchor puts his own spin on traditional forecasting


It’s not every day you watch someone stop a truck mid-air, in the middle of a tornado. Albert Martinez, Emmy-award winning chief meteorologist for Univision’s network news, may not be a superhero, but his knack for augmented reality (AR) helps his weather explainers fly off the screen.

In addition to that flying truck, Martinez has withstood Category 5 hurricane winds, crashed a car off a bridge, submerged himself in nine feet of dirty flood water, and started a wildfire in the Univision studio.

Martinez has his own theory about why his unconventional weather explainers are so popular with viewers.

“Normally they are always a hit because it catches the attention and it breaks the regular newscast,” said Martinez. “It makes the people at home turn around to the TV to see what’s going on, and then continue making breakfast, or whatever else they are doing in the morning.”


Watch Martinez explain how strong tornado winds can be

Born in Spain, Martinez started his career in radio, but over time he has perfected the visual forecast. Martinez uses IBM Max, a common weather software used across TV stations. But what really sets him apart from other meteorologists is his interactions with the graphics. “At the end, you do augmented reality graphics because we want viewers to believe that the graphic is in front of you, when there is nothing, so you need to interact with the graphic as much as possible.”

It’s a talent he’s developed after working with AR for more than seven years, first at Univision’s local stations in Dallas and Houston and now on network’s Despierta América, the most-watched morning show on Spanish-language television.

When done well, AR is a multi-sensory experience. Martinez incorporates sound effects, body language, vocal inflection, and facial reactions to transport viewers to the weather event.

“Sometimes I feel like I am a frustrated actor or something like that,” said Martinez. “Because when the car walks into the graphic I say stop and then break the car.”

Here Martinez uses an industrial fan to enhance his weather segment

With such attention to detail, it may come as a surprise that Martinez makes the majority of his own graphics from start to finish. From creating the animations to building the transitions and even adding the sound effects, he describes himself as a one-man band. Martinez only relies on a graphics editor for more complex segments like that recent hurricane explainer. This year Martinez and his colleague, Ivo Dovale, won two Telly Awards in the immersive and mixed reality category for their AR hurricane graphics.


Watch Martinez’s award winning weather explainer “Hurricane Storm Surge”

Now it only takes Martinez a couple of hours to build the graphics, but in the beginning it wasn’t so easy. “It used to take me eight hours or a week to do something,” said Martinez. “But now I am more fluent and I have a lot of palettes.” These palettes function as templates. For example, after you build a car once, you no longer need to animate the wheels or add in the sound for brakes.

Martinez building his own AR graphics on Univision’s weather computer

Martinez said the best way to get started with AR is to sketch out your ideas. Before that truck started flying through the tornado, it was parked in the back of his mind for about a year.

“I didn’t know how to start or how to end it,” said Martinez. “But I knew that the big moment of the explainer will be when the truck will float over me and I will say stop and everything will freeze, just to explain how strong the winds on a tornado can be.”

Another one of Martinez’s strategies for explaining tornado winds or other complex weather events — basic vocabulary. “Use simple language, not very complicated language, no updraft, no wind shear,” said Martinez.

Martinez, who is trilingual in meteorology, is especially sensitive to the language needs of different audiences. He spoke Catalán at the start of his career in Spain but switched to a more commonly-spoken Spanish vernacular in the U.S. However, where he’s noticed the biggest challenge is in translating English weather terms for Spanish viewers.

“In English it’s different, but talking about the weather in Spanish has a vocabulary that’s very difficult for the audience to understand, with a lot of technical words,” said Martinez. “Our audience, the Spanish audience, they’re not used to that because most of them come from Peru, Colombia, Chile, Nicaragua, where the weather on TV is not as popular as it is here.”


Watch “The Saffir-Simpson Scale,” Martinez’s second award-winning hurricane explainer

Martinez’s weather segments are not just entertaining to watch, they are vital to public safety. Since official weather sources often only publish in English, Spanish-language meteorologists are responsible for translating information for their local communities. Even if Spanish-speaking viewers understand some English, Martinez said, not everyone can read it, so it helps to have a familiar face to explain what is going on.

“You are the only one who can talk to them on TV directly saying, “Hey, hay un tornado aqui. Busquen refugio ya!” “Hey, there’s a tornado here. Find shelter now,” said Martinez. “I think it’s very important.

His final piece of advice to other meteorologists? Make the forecast memorable by customizing it to your audience’s specific needs.

“Know your community, what they want, what they do, and then do a forecast for them. Don’t do the Siri, Alexa, or whatever forecast, because they have that forecast,” Martinez said. “Bring something else related to the community.“

Plus, Siri and Alexa can’t deliver an augmented reality forecast — yet.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of our ongoing series, Changing Weather. Coming up in two weeks, we’ll have a story on free resources to help your newsroom report on climate change. In the meantime, check out Climate Central’s upcoming webinar, showcasing a new tool that provides personalized alerts connecting local weather events to climate change. You can sign up here.

And if you know a meteorologist whose work should be featured in our ongoing series, please send us an email at cronkitenewslab@asu.edu.

Get the Lab Report: The most important stories delivered to your inbox




Tags: , ,