Do your weather forecasters remind you of The National Enquirer in how they “sensationalize” the weather report? Mine is the Enquirer, People Magazine and the Sludge Report all rolled into one.
Apparently competition makes TV weathercasters dramatize their forecast. Often they’re wrong. Someone showed me a recent news story based on research that said TV weather forecasts are right 42 percent of the time, which means they miss 58 percent. If they were running a service, say, predicting the winner of horse races and you placed your bets according to their information, you’d lose money.
MOST OF US want to know what the weather is going to do at any given time. Bad weather or dramatic changes can affect work and travel schedules. Accurate weather information is a valuable commodity.
The National Weather Service (NWS) is on target more than 90 percent.
Weatherpersons get on camera and, surrounded by a lot of graphics, talk about “computer models.” It appears they choose one model from several to make their forecast. Those 42-right, 58-wrong numbers keep popping into my head and the mention of Doppler radar brings on visions of inaccurate blips.
This particular Central Texas station I’m forced to watch claims a viewing area of about a dozen counties. In fairness, trying to do a forecast that fits an area that large is difficult at best. However, this grinning, gesturing weatherperson appears with a large TV screen behind him that is showing some sitcom and streaming along the bottom of that screen is an “ALERT.” This smiling weather “expert” says in times of threatening weather, there will be constant “updates” and “alerts” but that the station won’t interrupt regular programming “for the sake of the viewers” unless there is a “clear and present danger.” Sounds almost Presidential, doesn’t it.
DURING ONE recent series of thunderstorms, lightning and hail, my weather guy managed to jump in over regular programming at station-breaks when five or six commercials are scheduled to play. Some viewers probably appreciated missing those blaring commercials but you can bet the people paying for them were cocked and spring-loaded in the ticked-off position.
Apparently, though, my TV weather guy isn’t as “dramatic” or “sensational” as some national weather broadcasts (and I don’t mean the NWS). A recent Associated Press story decried the “weather hype” from some of these forecasters, particularly regarding the record winter storms in the northeast.
Most of the complaints found by AP had to do with sensationalizing, particularly with the words chosen to “describe” the weather conditions. One weather forecast termed the storm a “snowicane.” Some terms also thrown in by various cable or satellite TV national weather services were “snowmageddon” and “snowpocalypse.”
Such terminology incites the public and has been likened to the days of “yellow tabloid journalism” in the early 20th century when wild headlines were shouted by newspaper vendors on the streets.
IN THE CASE of the huge northeastern winter storm, it lived up to its description from the standpoint of measured snowfall and barometric pressure, but it was hardly the same as a tropical hurricane.
Of course, in Central Texas we didn’t have that kind of snow. Our little early March flurry just caused folks like me to batten down the hatches and stay inside a couple of days. Not our weathercaster. He was so excited, he smiled and danced around over the four or so inches that covered us for about 24 hours before melting.
Why is it that what we consider to be bad weather and bad news is such a gleeful occasion for a TV weatherperson? With the sad record of TV weathercasting, you’d think they’d just use the information the NWS gave them. But, as the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait five minutes. It’ll change.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.