Weather or not
BY C. L. BOTHWELL
The weather has gotten completely out of hand, and I'm up to here with it. I'm not talking about the real weather: the wind, the rain, the sleet and all of that wonderful turbulent atmospheric chaos that makes each day and each season stimulating and delicious. I'm talking about weather reports.
I think weather people, particularly television weather people, need to chill out.
There's no doubt weather reports are useful. We can make less tentative plans for a picnic, carry an umbrella to work, stoke the fire, open a window or hang sheets out to dry with more confidence when we have some advance notice of nature's whims.
But weather reporting is becoming less fact and more entertainment every day, to no one's benefit. Like any big storm, this phenomenon has an eye, and the eye is centered on the Weather Channel.
Probably the worst juncture came when some whiz-kid invented the "wind-chill factor." Suddenly there was a pseudo-scientific way to make the weather look worse than it really was.
A nearly balmy winter day could appear cold, and a frigid spell assume life-threatening proportions when we were told how cold it felt instead of how cold it really was. The perversity of the notion is clear when you consider that you never hear it mentioned in the summer.
"Today we'll get up into the low 90s, with a variable breeze gusting to 30. So the wind-chill makes it a comfortable 68 degrees."
Then some other hotfoot realized that if it worked for cold, it would work for warm, too. Voila! The "heat index" was born. Suddenly we could be reliably informed how hot we felt, instead of simply being told the air temperature.
What's next? The "long-john scale?"
"The temperature won't get above zero today, but if you're wearing flannel undies, three sweaters and a ski parka, it will seem like the low 50s."
And then the "bikini factor?"
"Today's gonna be a scorcher, folks, in the high 90s. But if you get nearly naked, flip on the fan and sip lemonade all afternoon, it'll feel like April instead of August."
Hurricane reporting has suffered from infotainment as well. It's fine to be prepared when a storm threatens, but now citizens are urged to worry from the time a storm cell begins to form off the coast of Africa.
"There's a possible tropical storm south of the Canary Islands that may strengthen. If it were to become a Force Five hurricane, and follow the path taken by Hugo, North Carolina could be in for some rough weather in 10 days.
"Then we could be in jeopardy of confronting hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage, scores of deaths and torrential flash floods that will leave thousands homeless. Wind-damaged trees could bring an extreme forest fire danger in future years and there may be a boom in the yacht- and roof-repair and lumber industries, with a precipitous decline in tourism on the Outer Banks.
"The president could be forced to declare parts of three states disaster areas.' Stay tuned."
Hey, lighten up. You folks begin to sound like a boy crying wolf and that's the real danger here. If every day becomes an extreme weather event, gradually people won't take serious warnings seriously.
Like Dan Rather's breathless reportage that turns every news blurb into a crisis, this bad weather badinage will create viewers who giggle at your bouncing eyebrows and ignore a tornado that may blow them to Kansas or Oz.
Writer C.L. Bothwell III hails from the other Carolina. Duck Soup is also served up twice every Tuesday on WNCW 88.7FM.