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Storms boosted Weather Channel

Network's ratings were highest ever in September

ATLANTA -- Hurricane season has battered Florida, but it's been more than kind to the Weather Channel, which posted its biggest ratings month in history for September.

They're slow to brag about it at the Atlanta-based cable channel, and hurricanes, they say, are nothing to celebrate. But when ratings fluctuate greatly depending on the weather, there's no question that five major storms in six weeks means a sunny payoff.

''This was a history-making event from a weather perspective, and for the Weather Channel it was a record-breaking ratings season," said general manager Terry Connelly.

The network posted a single-day record, reaching 1.9 million households the day before Hurricane Ivan made landfall. The next day, as Ivan roared ashore, the Weather Channel beat all other news channels.

The network also posted a weekly ratings record between Aug. 31 and Sept. 5, when Hurricane Frances hit Florida's east coast. For the third quarter, July through September, The Weather Channel's ratings were 43 percent higher than in 2003.

The news gets even better when accounting for the network's ''weather trigger" advertising structure. Executives won't give details about how much ads cost when there's a hurricane, but they say companies can set up ads that air when a certain weather event happens. So a home improvement store's ads could be triggered by a hurricane, or a tire company's commercials by a snowstorm.

''It was the biggest month in the history of the network," Connelly said.

But it was hard-earned.

''I've been doing this a dozen years, but I've never lived through anything like this," said Jim Cantore, an on-air meteorologist who spent almost six weeks wind-whipped and soaked.

For a while, it seemed that any time a viewer flipped to the Weather Channel, Cantore was there, day and night, showing crushing waves and palm trees straining against intense winds. He went days without sleeping, even before the storms hit.

Steve Lyons, the network's tropical weather expert, had one day off in four weeks. Sometimes he napped under his desk. Once he remembers looking at his watch in the windowless studio and having to ask whether the time was a.m. or p.m.

''It was just one system after another. We didn't get any kind of a breather," he said. ''After a while you start running on adrenaline. The past is a blur and you're just looking ahead to the next system."

And worrying that the predictions may be flawed. Lyons and others craft their predictions from satellite images and wind readings at sea, and they know viewers and even other reporters rely on them to tell where the storm will run aground, and at what force.

''You're constantly worried about being incorrect," Lyons said. ''Nobody cares about the long hours. We just want to do things right and not let anyone say anything incorrect."

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