I live in the forgotten country — the lost land of the Blackstone Valley — where no one tells you nothing. When weather people stand in the studio and do their predicting, they always position themselves so you can see the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts except where we live because that is where they always stand. If they give a passing mention to the valley, that’s a lot. I have learned to read weather maps because I’m not going to get any information any other way.
Dinosaurs could be roaming the Valley and no one would notice unless one of them ate a tourist.
We’re turning the corner into summer, usually a relatively quiet weather period. Except for the massive tornado in Oklahoma and the violent storms here today, part of the same huge weather system that’s affecting almost the entire country from the west to New England. Last year we had Sandy the super-storm, a weather system so extensive the entire east coast and many places inland were sucked into the vortex.
The coming of Sandy the monster storm was announced with the usual hysteria. In the end, it missed us, though not by much. It devastated areas all around us, but we slipped through a little bubble between pieces of storm. I saw it on the weather map, but it was such a little bubble, if the storm’s path had altered even the tiniest bit, we would have been engulfed. Sandy was a huge, evil storm. The thing is, with all the over-the-top hype, I paid very little attention to it because I’m so used to the weather folks making everything sound like the end of the world is coming. So I didn’t make even the smallest preparations until the last possible moment, by which time no even had bottled water to buy. I’d been so numbed by all the hyperbole about previous storms that never materialized, it became meaningless noise.
That’s what’s wrong with the all-frenzy-all-the-time approach to weather forecasting. It’s become the standard all over the place.
In this neck of the woods, we got a lot of weather. A local running joke is “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” We tend to be glum and resigned about snow because most winters, we get a lot of it. Sometimes so much we wonder if the roof will cave in under the weight. Roofs actually do collapse, so it isn’t entirely unrealistic to worry about it.
Blizzards, tropical rains and hurricanes, hail, sleet, ice storms, powerful thunder squalls (we’re having one right now) that down trees and power lines and occasionally become tornadoes … we get it all. Not the gigantic twisters, but pretty much everything else. Everything is normal here. That’s just the way it is in New England and always has been, far as I know.
This is a river valley and a watershed. Rivers overflow. When they do, you can row, row, row your boat down the Main Street of any town in the valley, all of which are built along the banks of the Blackstone or one of its many tributaries. Some lucky villages, like Uxbridge, have both the Blackstone and a major tributary (the Mumford) running through the middle of town.
It produces beautiful autumn foliage pictures, but autumn can also be pretty sodden. When hurricanes are active, we may not get most of the wind, but we get shockingly heavy rains. To put things in perspective, the Blackstone isn’t the Mississippi. Our towns don’t wash away. It may take a few days for flood water to recede, but that’s as far as it goes. Basements get flooded, trees come down, but it isn’t the end of the world, just a pain in the butt. And sometimes expensive.
We are hardly the only area with rapidly changing, unpredictable, and sometimes bizarre weather, but we do get more hysterical about it than they do in many other places. Our TV meteorologists become crazed as weather systems approach. You’d think they’d never seen a snowstorm before as they predict blizzards to rival or exceed the big one in 1978. The blizzard of ’78 was in fact a monumental storm and has become The Storm against which all others are measured. It was a killer and only a handful of meteorologists predicted it correctly. Sometimes, the weather actually exceeds the hype. Many of our worst storms are under predicted. The bigger the hoopla, the more likely it is to fizzle.
Wherein lies the problem.
Why get upset about the frenzy? It’s harmless, isn’t it? Weather sells. When big weather systems, like hurricanes or blizzards threaten, people who normally don’t watch the news tune in. Higher ratings, lots of teasers (“Seven feet of snow on the way!! Will you be buried tomorrow? Story at 11!”), and excited meteorologists. It’s money in the bank. Doom is a perennial best-seller.
I understand why TV station love to whip everyone into a frenzy. For them, it’s just business. Weather prediction doesn’t carry with it the usual issues of journalistic responsibility. No one can call you to task for being wrong because, after all, it’s the weather.
I don’t get why people who live here get so lathered up. My neighbors know it’s going to snow in the winter. They know it’s going to rain in the spring. We all know it’s likely to flood at some point. You hope it won’t be your basement. Almost everyone has a sump, a pump, drains and ditches to deal with spring flooding. It’s messy and inconvenient, but hardly unexpected. So why do they buy into the frenzy? They ought — logically — to know better, wouldn’t you think?
The frenzy is not harmless.
Because the media treats every weather event like the end of the world, it makes it impossible to figure out if this next thing is serious or just more of the same. Should we lay in supplies? Ignore it? Plan to evacuate? Fill all the water containers? Cancel travel plans? Make travel plans? Head for the shelters?
Hysteria is exhausting and worse, it is numbing. Some of us actually worry when confronted with the possibility of weeks without electricity, wondering where we could go with our family and dogs — only to realize we have nowhere to go. Telling us our world is ending is upsetting if you believe it, dangerous if it’s serious and we don’t believe it.
And who believes those guys any more? They really shouldn’t say that stuff unless it’s true. Or at least might be true. And they actually believe it’s true.
I’m assuming in areas like Oklahoma weather forecasters hold themselves to a higher standard so people won’t die because they have no faith in their meteorologists. I sure hope so.
As for me, if I can’t see the danger on a weather map, I don’t believe it. None of it.
It’s rude to scare us to death, then say “Sorry folks, forget I said that.” We don’t forget. It’s like telling the jury to ignore the testimony. You can’t unring the bell. Meteorologists are becoming bad boys who cry wolf. When the real deal occurs — and periodically, it does — will we believe them? I probably won’t and maybe that will be a dangerous mistake.
They may not be legally required to adhere to any journalistic standards, but maintaining some credibility might be a good idea.
I’m just saying, you know?
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