Meteorologists use words to hype the obvious
Published 12:00 pm Friday, January 20, 2023
Today’s forecast: when you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not.
You probably noticed long ago that television meteorologists, otherwise known as the weatherman, or weatherwoman, became the drama kings and queens, hanging onto flapping signposts for dear life while shouting into their microphones that the winds are dangerous and everyone should stay inside.
I remember working as an AP reporter traveling around Virginia and finally getting to meet Frank Batten, the Harvard-educated newspaper publisher in Norfolk. He already was quite successful, and eager young reporters like me saw him as our hero because he believed in the same tenets of good journalism that we did. Plus, he was the consummate Southern gentleman, a kindly man who said good morning to even lowly people like me in the hallway. Then I learned that he was launching a 24-hour TV program called The Weather Channel. My first thought was that he had somehow been hornswoggled. Who in their right mind would watch that?
Fast-forward to 2008 when Batten sold The Weather Channel for $3.5 billion. That has meant a lot of bright-and-sunny days for Jim Cantore, the meteorologist at The Weather Channel who is paid $2 million a year to parachute into hurricane and tornado territory and report the obvious.
So famous has the weather made him that he is the stuff of Internet meme legend. “Jim Cantore–The Chuck Norris of Weather” and “Jim Cantore is like an ex-wife. When he rolls into town you’re gonna lose everything.”
Along the way from Frank Batten’s bright idea to today, we have watched the TV weather folks slip further away from the weather being what it is to pure hype.
Even locally grown chief meteorologist Chris Justus of WYFF–TV Channel 4, a product of apple growers in Hendersonville, has put his foot into the murky language pool. Like all the others, he is able to, with a smile on his face, send people racing to the grocery store to stock up. Faster than you can say, “Looks like we might get some snow,” the shelves are bare, mostly of comfort foods, although we like to think it’s just bread and milk.
Justus’ favorite word these days is “impact.” At first, he began occasionally noting that a particularly severe weather forecast would have some impact on folks. Now, it seems at least to me, every forecast begins with him telling us it’s going to be “an impact day.” Ever hear anyone say at the coffee shop, “Looks like we’re going to have ourselves a real impact day.”
All of this hype isn’t Justus’ fault. By all accounts, he is one of the sweetest, kindest people you’ll ever meet. He’s merely doing what we want him to do–scare the snowflakes out of us by warning that we go outside at our own peril.
Even then, we have those people who say after a tornado hits or a snowstorm blankets us that there was no warning it was coming, to which I say, “You weren’t listening.”
I watch TV weather forecasts like a farmer does. I want to see if I need to make any special preparations. Will the water pipes freeze? Will the snow keep the livestock from getting their food? Will the creek rise? Do I need to replenish the hot chocolate and marshmallows? That kind of important stuff.
I can live without hyperbole. Just tell me how much and when, please.
Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org