Hawaii battened down the hatches for Hurricane Flossie this week only to have it pass by as a weak storm. This got me thinking about the people of Hawaii, the closed schools and tourist destinations and the panic that was broadcast in the days leading up to what amounted to a tropical storm. As news goes, there is no doubt the weather falls under “need to know”. My question to you is: does weather have to be so dramatically presented and are there silver linings in these clouds of hype?
The very same organizations founded on principals of objectivity, integrity and serving the public interest, get a carte blanche license to throw all dispassionate delivery of information aside and instead cover the weather as though it is story time with cartoons. There is a rapid dispensing of data made palatable by flashy graphics, bright colors, animated illustrations and emotional language aimed to keep us engaged. Sunshine appears with a smiley face and sunglasses (unless it is too hot, then out comes the angry, menacing version in red). Rain clouds have been known to sport furrowed eyebrows. My personal favorite is the wind cloud with big puffed cheeks that magically moves weather systems across the entire country with one huff.
And have you noticed that TV meteorologists have the fanciest, most official sounding title in a newscast and yet they always seem to be having the most fun? I always smile at the sight of Willard Scott skillfully intertwining reports of flooding or other devastation with birthday celebrations for the elderly. Watching our local meteorologist as she wades threw flood waters, gets blown around by 50 mile per hour winds, pelted with rain or hail and gets stuck in snow drifts, does add a bit of spice and dimension to the daily news.
Though I feel sorry for people who have the misfortune of sharing a name with a devastating storm like Katrina, I like the naming of hurricanes. Why not give personality to a developing storm and then build it into an evolving monster that threatens to tear into homes and ruin lives?
On the other hand, many of us have lined our windows with duct tape, stayed home from work, and changed our plans for a total dud. We have all, at one point or another, been victims of hype. Perhaps the biggest downside to weather’s domination of news minutes is the important stories that don’t get told or that get crunched and altered to make room for information that can be passed on in seconds.
The upside is, the weather reports draw and retain an audience for your local sponsor. Not only does a good week of paranoid forecasts sell canned goods, candles and water, it gives society a common drama to talk about and can help keep us safe. Ultimately, the hype unites and sometimes protects us at a small cost, complete with jovial meteorologists and snazzy visuals.
For those interested in the actual accuracy of weather forecasts:
Forecasted Highs Retrieved
Percent of Possible
Forecasted Highs Scored
Percent of Possible
Table 2: Forecasted highs retrieved and scored versus possible.