Friday, April 15, 2011

Boo! Bad storms are coming

I'm not sure who gets more excited during an outbreak of severe thunderstorms -- those who are mesmerized by bad weather, or those who can't stomach the people mesmerized by bad weather.

Whether it's severe storms, tornadoes, hurricanes or snowstorms, the media coverage of bad weather (or predicted bad weather) seems to rile some people.

From what I've gathered, the critics' chief complaint is that meteorologists, or those who report on the weather, tend to sensationalize.

I've made a special attempt to use some restraint in covering the weather. Sometimes, I've used too much restraint. On April 4, I wrote that there was a chance of a few heavy storms overnight. Other media outlets were much more bullish in their advance coverage. They were right. I downplayed the threat too much.

The same thing last Saturday, when hail caused millions of dollars of damage locally.

A special target of the critics are the TV meteorologists, particularly during tornado events, when the stations usually go to full-time coverage. Those silly severe storms and tornadoes have no sense of timing. They have a bad habit of coming along in the afternoon and evening, which means weather coverage sometimes cuts into coverage of basketball, football, golf tournaments, NASCAR races, or maybe your favorite program.

I don't deny that meteorologists -- including amateurs who are fascinated by weather -- get excited in big events. However, I've also met political junkies who think the whole world should be fascinated by a big election, or sports fans who think their favorite event is the biggest thing in the whole world.

TV meteorologists say their coverage during severe weather is designed to save lives. I believe them. Don't try arguing that advance warning of tornadoes and hurricanes doesn't save lives. That ship has sailed. The statistics show how the toll of injuries and deaths has plummeted in recent decades, due to warnings.

The problem, perhaps, is when the big event -- a tornado, hurricane, snowstorm -- doesn't develop as anticipated. Maybe the critics feel they have been manipulated somehow.

Meteorology is a science, but as one National Weather Service veteran once told me, "It's not an exact science. There's still a bit of art mixed in."

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., and the National Weather Service -- and many other meteorologists -- predict an outbreak of severe weather Saturday in the Carolinas. If it doesn't happen, I won't complain.

It means my car won't be damaged by hail, or those two big trees along the creek won't come crashing into my fence or onto my roof.

It also means people outdoors Saturday -- playing baseball, softball, soccer, tennis or golf -- or the parents and children at Easter egg hunts will be safe.

But people who know a lot more about atmospheric science than me say there's a threat. My job is to report that.


John Thomas said...

Wah. I ignore the complainers and the sensationalists. When the National Weather Service issues a specific warning for my area, I start to pay attention and am then thankful for the local coverage.

If the threat isn't local to me but is still part of my local station's broadcast area, it can be frustrating, but the beauty of all the technology we have now means that you can likely stream whatever sport you're missing online, or catch that favorite program tomorrow on Hulu or a network's website.

Severe weather coverage does save lives; however, I think most of the sensationalist claims stem from severe winter weather coverage where our local news outlets tend to go a little crazy.

Anonymous said...

I occasionally see people complain about sensationalism on this blog, to which I would reply: just don't read it! I love this blog and would much rather be aware of the possibility of bad weather than be caught unaware.

Anonymous said...

I understand the need for advanced warnings. What I don't understand are these things: the fact that they can now declare a tornado warning WHEN NO ACTUAL TORNADO HAS YET FORMED (this adds to they hype, sensationalism and panic), meteorologists openly questioning others' ability to do their jobs (Panovich questioning FAA officials for allowing planes to take off and land, when HE had determined it was too dangerous to do so during a lightning storm), and complete interruption of programming, regardless of what's on. There is absolutely nothing of value added by these full-on attempts to induce panic that a crawler on the bottom of the screen can't also accomplish. Nothing. And new information arrives about once every 10 minutes or so. So they provide the new information, spend 10 minutes repeating it over and over and over and over and over and over again, attempting to lather the public into a state of panic, then bring in a little new info, and start again. Rinse, lather, repeat. It is absolutely senseless and useless, and will remain in my mind nothing more than ploys by gigantic egomaniacs with an artificially inflated sense of self-importance who desperately need something to justify their existence. They need to be chopped down to proper size - about the size of a crawler at the bottom of the screen, perhaps...

Anonymous said...

One thing that riles me about bad weather are the weather guys during the winter months who can't get their snow forecasts straight and rely on too many models that frustrate drivers planning a roadtrip somewhere.

A second thing that riles me is Brad 'the panic freak' Panovich at WCNC and his panic meter that 'advises' listeners to freak out over a 1 inch snowstorm and strip the food shelves of milk and bread, leaving nothing for the rest of us wanting or needing the same thing.

A 3rd thing that riles me is WBT's crawler during programming especially March Madness and Hawaii 5-0 that disrupts the program with their weather adviseries in the mountains that could, most likely, wait till their 11pm newscast.

BTW, I do appreciate the effort of the weather people to do their jobs. However, make our lives easier using some common sense with your forecasts.

Ok, off the what riles me soapbox. 'Enjoy' our bad weather Saturday. I'm off to the ole ballgame in Greensboro.

Anonymous said...

The problem is the TV weather folks do hype. For every accurate forecast there are three blown ones. In January WCNC's Panicovich was off the rails in major hype mode about a BLIZZARD. What did we get? Nothing. WBTV's constant (and I do mean constant) weather crawl during the third round of the Masters gave no new information. If it's so important and of such great community interest - why is it really a Scott Clark's Toyota COMMERCIAL? It's just an excuse to generate added income. Let's get real here.

Anonymous said...

A number of people have died this week in this bad weather. Last month a countless number of people died in probably the worst weather and seismic disaster in my lifetime. These things are not puerile, but this post is.

LisaDiane in Kings Mountain said...

After yesterday's terrible storms east of us, all the whining by the commenters sounds foolish. NINE people so far died yesterday in severe storms! And I have news for you - I was in the direct path of the storms last weekend with all the hail, and I was so grateful to Brad Panovich staying on the air and explaining everything that was happening, while we decided whether to take cover or not! I am really sorry for you guys that your golf shows or basketball or American Idol shows were interrupted (boo hoo), while you sat in your calm, dry homes. How pathetic really.

Anonymous said...

HAARP must be in full force. "Record breaking" everything...

Anonymous said...

Thank God for the tv weather people staying on the air an telling you there are possible tornado's in the area, since there is no other warning given to people. In other states like Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma for don't have to be glued to your tv to know what is going on, they have Sirens that go off if a tornado is in the vicinity to give you time to seek shelter. It's ridiculous that they don't have something like that in North Carolina. It is better in dealing with Severe weather and tornado's to be too cautious than not cautious enough.

Anonymous said...

^yes. Kudos to WCNC in Charlotte and WRAL in Raleigh, I was watching both (WCNC on TV and WRAL online) and they had excellent coverage.