Monday, June 26, 2006

The television weather teams in this town must be stopped. They are simply out of control. I rarely watch the local news, I never watch the local weather. But when I got home from NC Friday, I turned on the local news because sometimes something actually happens around here.

Each and every local channel was LEADING the news off with a "let's go to insert-name-of-drooly-chinned-wild-eyed-with-hope local weatherperson here story.

The story? Tornados? No. Apopcolyptic June snow storm? No. Category Five Hurricane in the Atlantic? No.

A tropical wave. A weak tropical wave off the coast.

A bunch of high-faluting big words and a bunch of graphs on their new little viper toys later, I surmised that we might get some rain. Just like we do ALL THE FREAKING TIME in the summer when not in a dry year.

But the newbies, those not real familiar with hurricane terms and formation, were once AGAIN left with the impression that we were in IMMEDIATE DANGER from this lurking monster off the coast that could turn into a hurricane AT ANY MOMENT and KILL US ALL!!! screaming in to the night....

Stop it. Stop stop stop. And while you are at it, go stand in the corner for ten minutes.

You should be ashamed of yourselves. Really. Think about it. You are hyping everything up to get attention, to justify the expense of those fancy doppler toys you convinced management to buy, and to give yourselves some apparantly needed sense of importance. Stop it.

How about this. "Hey guys, there is a tropical wave developing off the coast. It's not well formed so it isn't anything to worry about, probably just some tropical moisture going to bring us some much needed rain. But as a wave is step one in the process of how a hurricane develops, we'll continue to watch it."

The public has been "informed" without all the dire predictions that this is GOING to turn in to something because you all saw some rotation at some point. You got your face on television at the top of the hour. You got to use your fancy computer models. It's a win-win situation.

What is not a win-win situation is the continued false alarms. People who aren't used to this remember the scenes from Florida, from the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. It frightens them. And it should. When there is a real threat. Your continued Chicken Little dance is only going to make them stop paying attention. And when you've been 'wrong' everytime you predicted 'disaster', why should they listen to you when there is a real threat? You are being irresponsible.

Me: Hey Thor, the weatherman says there is a Category Three hurricane bearing down on us right now.

Thor: Whateva!

Me: Loki! We need to evacuate right now. The weatherman says there is a tropical depression off the coast of Africa that could become a Category Five Hurricane and will probably strike Charleston harbor at high tide on a full moon and we will all drown.

Loki: Zzzzzzzzzzz..huh? Suppertime?


Vera said...

Great post!!!

I watched the news Sunday afternoon when they lead with the weather. I thought there was something serious at first when I just realized they took about half the newcast to say, "It's raining."

I do worry that all the overhype will cause some people not to pay attention when a real threat comes along.

Daniel said...

well, as you probably know (but others may not), this is the result of for-profit media reading surveys and listening to focus groups and hiring consultants who conduct and interpret surveys and focus groups. And all of these things come back and tell nervous, clueless TV executives, "PEOPLE WANT MORE WEATHER!"

Newspapers have largely avoided the weather hype, but that's not because we're wiser. We lost the timeliness of weather reporting to TV long ago, so people don't turn to us for weather news. And we can't give you the background and context that the web can. So newspapers handle weather at arm's length, generally in a public record and/or conversational format.

However, now that newspapers are starting to take the Internet seriously again (many of us wrote it off as a fad after the dot-com bust), the weather hype machine is raising its ugly head. Consultants are telling us we have to make a big deal about the weather on our web sites.

Here's an experiment: Look at a variety of news websites. How many are displaying weather info more prominently on their home pages... but linking to the same old cheap crap?

That tells me a lot about an organization.

JanetLee said...

Thanks Vera. It's been a peeve of mine for a while.

Daniel- I don't disagree with the powers-that-be providing "more weather" if that is what the public wants. I really believe that these locals (and the nationals with their 'live on the disaster' footage) are not doing what they claim to do: provide a public service. Hyping up a story - let's choose home invasion - that may frighten people needlessly (really think about it, when the victims are interviewed, it is clear that they kept large amounts of cash in the house and the invaders knew this). The average Joe sitting in his average vanilla slum suburb doesn't really have much to worry about. But it isn't going to hurt him if he gets a little nervous and goes and buys some better deadbolts.

The constant hyping of potentially dangerous weather conditions is another story. With Tropical Storm Alberto, the locals were virtually claiming that Armeggedeon was upon us. And this most recent episode, with what was really never more than a wave of tropical moisture, they had all their graphs going. They were showing the public things that most of them (the public) don't understand (and TRUST the weather people to interpret the information for them accurately). They were talking about remote possibilities as if they were a foregone conclusion.

Sometime last weekend, a hurricane was going to form off the coast of Charleston and the deluge of rain was going to flood us like days of old. Get down to Home Depot people, it's ark building time.

And all for nothing more than the typical pattern of tropical rain we see here all the time.

A colleague of my mom's called my mom to ask if they should go to the store and move merchandise up in preparation. The woman is from up north and was scared. My mom gave her a great tip: Pay attention, but don't worry until you see Joe Riley's face on TV telling you to leave.

And leaving is my whole point. Warning fatigue. Anger over what is perceived to be false alarms. People are going to stop listening all together and not leave when they should.

Perhaps the locals should spend some air time teaching and explaining instead of hyping and frightening.

That's all I'm saying.

Pam said...

When I first moved here - I didn't have cable (so no weather channel) and I was pretty oblivious to the whole hurricane thing (fortunately, for me, we didn't have any). Now I just get updates directly from NOAA (my co-employer) and so I ignore everything until they tell me to leave. I think I've just tuned out the local folks - it's like I don't hear them anymore (more like I don't listen). Anyway - I think that your cats have the right attitude. In my household, my cat simply orders my dogs to "pack her a bag." And of course they do.