Monday, February 4, 2008



It’s February in Chicago. It’s cold and it snows. Sometimes it’s very cold and it snows a lot. Surprised? Of course not. But you would think this is some kind of revelation by the way the news media treat our weather. Regularly, throughout January, the lead story on the local news features some immaculately winter-outfitted weather babe standing out in the snow (and/or the cold) saying “Yes, folks, it’s cold out here.” She hands us off to a similarly immaculately winter-outfitted weather empty suit, always immaculately coiffed and sans hat (which always puzzles me—if it’s that cold and snowy, you would think the reporter would have the sense to wear a hat, but then, we are dealing with the media) who tells us “Yes, folks, it’s (mirabile dictu!) also cold and snowy here in another part of the metropolitan area!” Can you imagine that? This is a prime example, perhaps the ultimate progenitor, of NSS (“No S…, Sherlock”) reporting.

The reporters and news readers then go on to warn us (not quoting, but paraphrasing here), that conditions are dangerous, that sure death awaits anyone who ventures out into the cold, that the end of civilization as we know it is upon us, and that our best bet is to cower in our basements and await our inevitable doom.

Those of us who are not so easily cowed then proceed to venture outside to learn that, yes, it is cold, but that it is, after all, the dead of winter in Chicago. While very cold weather is dangerous to people who have to work outside, it is little more than an inconvenience to most of us, even those of us who take public transportation. The roads, which the media do their best to assure us are a veritable cesspool of mayhem and unspeakable carnage, are very manageable. While the adverse weather conditions exacerbate the idiocy of the clueless drivers who make up a growing share of our motoring public, there are fewer of them on the roads, so, on balance, things are okay. Modern cars (Mine has neither traction nor stability control and is neither all wheel nor four wheel drive, but does have front wheel drive and anti-lock brakes and goes through the snow like a sled.) piloted by competent, or even skilled (in the case of yours truly) and weather hardened (again, in the case of yours truly) drivers have no problem with this kind of weather. I, and I am sure many of you, actually enjoy driving in the snow, as I did last night navigating a largely unplowed Ogden Avenue in order to pick up my oldest daughter after a Super Bowl party she attended.

So what is the problem if the media’s coverage of weather in the winters amounts to little more than wild-eyed alarmism? After all, it does get the timid and easily shaken off the roads, making transit easier for those of us who know what we are doing. It does waste valuable news time on what amounts to non-news. However, given the woeful state of TV and, to a lesser extent, radio news, the time saved by not reporting on the eminently predictable winter weather would be squandered with more reports of the drunken and/or drug-addled escapades of barely post-pubescent overindulged brats the American people, in their never ending wisdom, have chosen to deem celebrities. So perhaps diaphanous weather reporting is a net plus in this regard, also.

The problem, however, is a classic “Boy who cried wolf” situation. If the weather ever does get really life threatening, the media will doubtless warn us of impending cataclysm. Sensible people, like yours truly, having heard this song before, will simply ignore the media and go about their business, perhaps genuinely endangering their lives. If the media really want to avoid this sort of peril, rather than pander to an increasingly excerebrose viewership, perhaps they ought to learn how to save the alarmism for those very few times it is justified.


Páraic said...

It's worse here in Oklahoma. Not only do we have the panicked forecasts, we have incorrect panicked forecasts. Late last week those of us who live in Tulsa were treated to three days of dire forecasts regarding the imminent end of civilization due to a 'monster storm' which we could expect to drop, 1 to 2 inches (day #1) on the area. On day #2 it had grown to an inevitable 2 to 4 inches and on the day of the storm was a mammouth 5 to 9 inches.

The flurries began about 10 a.m. and ended an hour later, too late to recall all the cancellation notices that had gone out regarding school, evening activities and the like.

from life in the boonies

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