THE WEATHER shapes our world in so many important ways, as we learned last summer when the drought brought East Texas dried up stock tanks, low lake levels, and record forest fires.
Thomas Jefferson wrote about the weather constantly in his personal journal. I read his journals when I was in my early 20s. Until then, I had never thought about weather as something a great mind like Jefferson would follow. He recognized what I had not seen yet: that life depends on rain and sunshine in appropriate amounts.
Inspired by Jefferson I began following the weather on television networks, and later, on all news channels. There are weather channels, and I favor them. But for the most part, I read about weather in written media online, accompanied by radar and satellite images which help make clear the general type of weather on its way, along with its steady progression.
We are fortunate to live in a time when technology and satellites allow us to see storm systems in a way only dreamed about a few decades ago. When I was in the Air Force over 40 years ago, I met the Hurricane Hunters who used to go above hurricanes and fly down into their eye to give eye witness reports and raw data for weather prognostications. Those guys were unafraid and loved doing what they did. Some of their former role is now accomplished by satellites and our ability to track with accuracy major weather systems, but the Hurricane Hunters remain the way we find out such important information as barometric pressure inside the hurricane.
Weather is important and it brings life or death experiences to many as it plays out. One might think its coverage would reflect that significance. Instead, most weather news - even on national shows and news channels - sounds more like a dental patient on laughing gas than a serious commentator on weather.
I do not want the weather man or woman to entertain me, to joke with me, to act as if his or her reporting is in any way responsible for the actual weather. What are we, children?! Do we require constant distraction and entertainment? Apparently, that is what television producers think, because they have turned meteorology into buffoonery. The weather man has become Chuckles the Clown. That sad act belongs at a grade schooler's birthday party, not on the news.
I suspect most meteorologists wince at the image most have to portray to keep their jobs. That excessively happy chatter the weather man or woman must have with the "news" people is just this side of a modern minstrel show. Smiling, chuckling, all with a self deprecating, demeaning delivery.
Like Dragnet's Sergeant Joe Friday, I just want the facts, Ma'am. How much did it rain? Will it likely rain tomorrow? Is there a cold front or a hot blast on its way? Is it going to flood? Snow? Sleet? Hail? Ice? What will the high and low temperatures be? These are simple questions that should be answered on a weather show, preferably with graphs, charts, maps, and radar images.
We don't need the Chuckles the Clown act on the weather, and we don't need to see the obligatory shot of the weather person standing in high winds and rain to show us they are there at the coast as the storm moves inland. The weather is endlessly fascinating and often brings high drama. But it is almost never funny. So why do TV producers insist on trying to make it sound like a weak stand up act on Comedy Central?
© 2012, Jim “Pappy” Moore, All Rights Reserved.
Jim “Pappy” Moore is a native son of East Texas who still makes the piney woods his firstname.lastname@example.org