Weathermania!

Local television news has long been a cesspool:  a combination of mindless local boosterism, sensationalism, and an “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality.  As a college junior The Curmudgeon took a course in communications in which the instructor pointed out the unusual frequency with which local television news leads with stories about fires.  The Curmudgeon also has long been amused by how often local television news uses its ability to broadcast live from crime scenes – but often doing so hours after the crime has been committed, the crowds have dispersed, the police have departed, and rain has washed away the chalk outline on the sidewalk.  How often have you watched a breathless reporter standing outside a dark, deserted building where the crime was committed, talking into the camera and trying to pretend there’s any value at all in a live report?

When a local sports team does well and gets an opportunity to perform in the post-season, the sports guys trade in their jock straps for pom-poms and even the anchors get into the act.  With some of them, you just hold your breath and hope they won’t refer to a player “kicking a touchdown” or “shooting a goal.”

Television news especially likes to sensationalize the weather.  When you think about it, there’s no reason why a television news program needs someone just to deliver the forecast.  No one believes television weathercasters formulate the forecasts themselves based on raw satellite data.  No, they just present the forecast provided to them by the national weather service or a private forecasting company.  Do we really care if a high front over the Ohio valley will push in a warm air mass and a high pressure front that will produce rain tomorrow?  Of course we don’t.  All we want to know is whether it will rain tomorrow.  The only reason television news uses different people for weather is that they hope such people will catch on as personalities and attract viewers.  (And if you don’t believe that, why else would one of The Curmudgeon’s favorite television features be the weather forecast on Univision even though he hablas not a single word of Espanol?)

Television news loves snow.  It loves to forecast snow, loves to exaggerate how much snow will fall, loves to talk endlessly about the dangers of snow, and loves to preempt regular programming to show reporters out in the field saying things like “It’s really piling up here in Broomall” or “downtown Haddonfield is covered in snow” or the Peggy Fleming special, “Roosevelt Boulevard is like an ice rink between Welsh Road and Grant Avenue.”

If it’s not all about the snow, it’s all about the cold.  It’s not good enough for weathercasters to say “Tomorrow’s high will be a nippy 25 degrees.”  No, they need to add “But the wind-chill factor will make it feel like it’s 14.”  Considering how many of their viewers will only be outdoors for the time it takes to get from their house to their car and then from their car to their office, it’s not really useful or important information, but 14 sounds a lot more dramatic than 25, doesn’t it?

Television weather people often exaggerate how much snow will fall.  The first snowfall of the season, even if only flurries are expected, is always the “first major snowstorm of the season.”  If they predict 6 to 8 inches, bet on about 4.  If they predict 2 inches, expect a dusting.  One dumb schmuck in Philadelphia predicted the storm of the century, talked his boss into breaking into a popular prime-time program so he could predict the apocalypse, and lost all of his credibility and many of his fans when his predicted two feet barely amounted to two inches (and, if he recalls correctly, ruined a very romantic weekend The Curmudgeon had planned).  Within a year he was more or less drummed out of town in disgrace, his reputation in tatters.

Now, though, the sensationalization of weather has taken a new turn:  exaggerating how hot it will be.

Forecasting that tomorrow’s high will be 97 degrees is nice, but 97 doesn’t cut it in the sensational department – but 100 does.  So far during this unusually hot summer, television and radio reports have routinely called for three-digit temperatures that have failed to materialize.

Why?

To fool viewers into watching their broadcasts.  Tease 100 degrees at the top of a broadcast, tease it a little more three minutes later, and then keep people watching for another 15 minutes before they get the full forecast.

Sometimes, instead of saying “high of 97,” someone will tell viewers and listeners “high near 100.”  When the forecast high is 78, though, you’ll notice that they never say “high near 80.”  If they think the high will be 78, they say 78, but if they think it will be 97, they tell you “high near 100 degrees.”

And suddenly they’re spending a lot of time talking about a hot-weather version of the wind-chill index:  the heat index, or as one outfit calls it, the “real feel” index.  This is a combination of heat and humidity, but mostly, it’s a gimmick so that the forecast can get into three digits.

“Forecast high of 97 today” doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as “high of 97 but the heat index will make it feel like 103.”

Feel this, jackasses.

Are those 3 to 5 degrees significant enough to merit drawing this distinction?  If they were, wouldn’t they also talk about the heat index when the forecast high is 68 – or 78?

But that’s not going to stop the television news people.  If there’s a story to be blown out of proportion, they’re going to do it.  If there’s a crime wave, they’ll try to instill fear in the people who live in the area where the crimes are being committed; if Philadelphia city workers threaten to go on strike, they’ll talk endlessly about trash piling up on city streets in mid-summer and the possibility of rats and disease; and if a local actor appears in a major movie, they’ll talk about that actor like he’s the star and not just a bit player with four lines, one of which was left on the cutting-room floor.

But when they have nothing better to talk about, they’ll gladly, even eagerly, talk about and exaggerate the weather.  They’ll lie about it, they’ll sensationalize it, they’ll make it seem like it’s dangerous and life-threatening.

Because that’s just what local television does.

Advertisements
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: