Every now and then I get nostalgic for the old days of TV weather updates when the scariest possible event was “black ice,” two words spoken in the gravest of tones by trusted forecasters.
Black ice? Only a lunatic would leave the house with that stuff maliciously forming invisible inky tentacles on roads and bridges, bent on sending unsuspecting drivers into a ditch or, worst case, across Jordan.
Today “black ice” sounds positively quaint. How about calling it something a little sexier? Something like “Frozen Death Pool” because, in case you missed it, weather has become a tad hysterical.
There are “bomb cyclones,” (a fast-developing storm); “the polar vortex” (a big region of freezing air above the North Pole often misused to describe cold air anywhere);and “megadroughts (a drought that lasts longer than usual). See how the labels sound way worse than the real thing?
The hyperbole doesn’t stop there. Winds are often described, hilariously I think, as “punishing.” Really? Does the wind have a personal beef with me? If so, weird.
These days it’s acceptable for a highly educated meteorologist to say, straight faced, “The temperature will be 65 degrees, but it will FEEL LIKE 75.” Really? You are mildly annoying, but I FEEL LIKE throwing the remote at you. Can we just stick with the actual temperature?
Ditto wind chill hyperbole which pretty much everybody despises. If it’s 15 degrees, do we need to know the wind chill (whatever that is) is approximately 45 degrees below zero? That’s needlessly terrifying. Not as terrifying as Frozen Death Pools, but still.
If you think you’re sick of all the end-of-days weather reporting, you’re not alone. The New York Times, reporting from the annual conference of the American Meteorological Society (motto: “Your Guess Is As Good As Ours”), found plenty of pushback on some of the sillier trends. Climate scientist Cindy Bruyere said the language used on TV weather, in particular, has evolved to get people’s attention. She bemoaned “buzz words that have no meaning.” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain told the Times he was frustrated by “headlines that sound like the end of the world.”
Meanwhile the TV weather folks in attendance screamed “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!”
Snowpocalypse anyone? Snowmegeddon? That’s exponentially more gut-churning than “blizzard” which didn’t even hint at the imminent destruction of the entire world.
So, what’s with trying to scare viewers to death? Well, I’ll tell you after this commercial message. Shock and awe means better ratings—duh—which translates into the ability to charge more for advertising—double duh.
There’s too much weather reporting, if you ask me. Spectrum reminds me to “stick around for weather on the 1’s.” Does anyone need weather every 10 minutes? Cynics say weather’s outsized presence in local news is because it’s cheaper than paying news reporters, which sounds plausible. And if the weather is ramped up with sexy terms like “impact day” (weatherspeak for “some rain”) well who can resist? What’s that? All of you?
Weather is now intensely personal. It’s “YOUR” weather on the 1’s). It’s like we’re in a relationship with weather but “it’s complicated.” I suspect The Weather Channel started naming snowstorms (ridiculous!) so we’d feel the need to check on the progress of Winter Storm Yvette or Sage (yes, their real names.) We care just a little more when we’ve been formally introduced.
Weather graphics are even ramped up. Gone are the cute smiling suns that gathered dust on the Southwestern states because MELANOMA. Sun will kill you. The UV index is at “Kiss Your Butt Goodbye.” Today’s weather maps appear to use the same color scale as terrorism threats. Wind patterns are wildly animated and an approaching shower is cause to tell your family that you love them.
We don’t need the Jim Cantore-lashed-to-a utility-pole drama and ominous graphics for every lil thunderstorm, right?