Sunday, December 21, 2008

Doppler titillation

Fred Honsberger was talking about one of my pet peeves the other day on his KDKA radio show. Fred was ripping the three Pittsburgh TV stations for making mountains out of molehills when it comes to reporting on the weather, especially wintry weather. I couldn't agree with him more. Fred noticed the same thing I did the other night: "Team coverage" of a "winter weather event" that involved TV reporters standing in a light RAIN as temperatures in the area were RISING. These TV stations sound the bread-milk-toilet paper alert every time there's anything more than a snow flurry in the forecast. It seems to me this weather hysteria started in the early 1990s when the local forecasters badly missed the call on a major snowstorm. They called for a little snow. We got a bunch. Ever since then, they always err on the side of predicting more snow than we actually receive. Here's a pretty good rule of thumb. If they call for 6 to 8 inches, expect 2 or 3. If they call for 2 to 4 inches, expect an inch. If they call for an inch, expect a dusting. And if they call for a dusting, get out a microscope. It's winter. We live in Pennsylvania. We fully expect to see some white stuff. My request of the TV weather folks is to quit making every snow shower seem like Armageddon. Yeah, like that'll happen.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too many minutes, not enough news.

December 21, 2008 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

I had a conversation with a local meteorologist who shall remain nameless... I told him that I am always amused when they bring in TWO weathermen to cover the big weather events (be they mid-summer storms or mid-winter snows)... we were in the midst of a few rather inconvenient snows at the time, and I asked him why they haven't broken out the two man team lately... He said... and I quote... "Oh, we will... as soon as we get a good snow profile on the radar... or a slight drizzle during sweeps."

It's all about ratings :-)

December 21, 2008 at 2:58 PM  
Anonymous Joe Tuscano said...

True story: A few summers back, an ordinary thunder storm hit the area. For the first 45 minutes of the 5 o'clock news, they talked about nothing else. My father, who lived an hour away and was watching these reports, called to ask me if I was OK? Why, I said. He told me he thought we were in the middle of some sort of hurricane. I told him we were fine and to turn off the news.

When did local news turn into the recreation of a Ron Burgundy movie?

December 21, 2008 at 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the same everywhere. When I lived in S. Florida, and a hurricane was coming, the weatherman did everything but scream "we're gonna die!" By the time all was said and done, the biggest wind we had came from my husband on the other couch.
I find most men are amateur meteorologists. It doesn't matter whether you're talking rain or snow...they always tell you to prepare to receive 12 inches, but you know you're only gonna get 3 if you're lucky.

December 21, 2008 at 10:12 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

Snow is like when a woman has sex with a fellow for the first time: you never know how many inches you're going to get or how long it's going to da bing!

December 22, 2008 at 2:26 AM  
Blogger Roger said...

This is a favorite topic for discussion. Brant, you are right -- they made a poor assessment on a snow storm a few years ago, and now are overboard the other direction. When the Severe Weather Center tells us the sun will shine (I know, pretty rare in Pittsburgh, but it does happen from time to time), the temperatures will be in the 60s, and the breezes will be slight, one has to wonder about "severe weather." It is a horrible name for a weather center.

However, some folks are very directly effected by weather. What is happening outside can determine their work schedule, their ability to accomplish certain things, and their livelihood. Some of us follow weather very closely, get to know how to read the maps, use our cell phones to retrieve up-to-the-minute radar maps. The most entries in our Favorites list on our browser is weather related. The media folks that give little attention and make general comments about the weather, with no specifics, are quickly discounted. When one of them says "... a little rain today, but it won't amount to much," such a comment can mean the difference between a day of work (pay), and a day without work (no pay).

Garage door openers are one of the worst inventions. People go to their garage, get in their cars, push the button to raise the door, drive out, and push the button to put the door down. The vehicle has a heater and an A/C, all for the comfort of the occupant. They never feel what is going on outside, nor do they care in nearly all cases. For others, what is happening outside is VERY important.

By the way, the garage door opener has one other major drawback. It has the potential to cut off nearly all neighborly chatter. It most cases it succeeds -- rarely do neighbors talk when driving in/out because they are always in their vehicle. No, it isn't far fetched. I see it all the time.

December 22, 2008 at 7:36 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

I have the Weather Channel on my desktop. It gives me everything I need: hour-by-hour forecast, 10-day forecast, doppler radar, etc. Don't really need some pretty face on TV rehashing it for me, though I must admit that I don't mind looking at Julie Bologna on Channel 11.

December 22, 2008 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

The weather here in Richmond is very tricky to predict. To the west, mountains. To the east, the Atlantic. Richmond also is situated near where the jet stream changes some. We can get rain on the south side of the James River but not on the north side. Still, we have the same overblown, tremendously hyped "Weather Centers," "Storm Trackers," Doppler radar and all that stuff everyone else has, in addition to a platoon of folks who report it and "break it down" for us. One station actually boasts that it can track a rainstorm to the very block you live on. But they still can't predict snow. It doesn't matter though. An inch of snow shuts this city down just as quickly as a foot.

I check the weather online to see what's coming up and then, as my mother used to say, I "stick my nose out" to see what it's like before I leave. Weather is one of those things where technology may well have usurped good old common sense.

December 22, 2008 at 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As my junior high geograhy teacher used to see, "I can get all the weather I need by looking out the window."

A tip to Pittsburghers: We live in a snowy region. Buy snow tires. Expect snow. Drive slower when it snows, even if you have an SUV. Carry a shovel and rock salt in the car. In summer, carry an umbrella.

We seem to have surviced through to 1970 or so without all this weather whining.

December 22, 2008 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Roger said...

Brant, sorry but the Weather Channel is insufficient for use by those who need more specific information. This area is in a confluence of weather patterns. Some come from the west, some from the north, some from the south. Services that provide regional information need to cover a far too wide of area to be useful. What happens in Butler can be far different than what happens in Washington, than what happens in Irwin. To be sure, there are times when a pattern will flow ever the entire region, making readings and forecasts useful. But, try times of the year (often during the Spring and Fall) when the greater Pittsburgh area provides the meeting place for northern and western patterns. Getting specific information that some of the media provide can be the difference between a day's wages pocketed, or a day's lost. Yes, it is trivial for those driving to/from work in an office setting. But, to some others the information is not just important, it is critical. There are good reasons why private weather services are able to earn their keep by providing good information.

Usually, those whose livelihood depends upon the weather are far from any PC desktop. This is why mobile devices are very important to monitor changing patterns.

December 22, 2008 at 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my favorite gripe about the TV news and one of the reasons I like to get my news from the paper.

A long long time ago, I worked at a Shop N Save. I used to cringe when the weather people called for snow. I can remember them hyping it up way back then (15 or so years ago). The owner would come out and tell us to stock all the milk, bread and toilet paper and sure enough it would all sell.
The deli was also slammed right before a storm for some reason. You can't live without your 1/4 lb of Isaly's or head cheese (ick) for a day?

The area had a lot of elderly people so I could kind of understand them needing to get a few things so they didn't have to brave the weather. But, on the other hand most people have enough food in the house to get them through at least a day or two. I don't beleive for a second that EVERYONE is that low on staples before a storm.

Most snowstorms around here don't leave us trapped for very long.


December 23, 2008 at 11:45 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

As someone who used to work in the retail food bizz (cashier), I can relate. Sometimes I wanted to say to those people, "Ya know, they're calling for an inch of snow, and it's going to be 45 degrees the day after. Do you really need to stock up like the 'end times' are upon us?" But I didn't. I also always felt like a horse's ass if I really DID, just by coincidence, need to get milk and toilet paper. I looked like as big a doofus as those other people.

December 24, 2008 at 8:46 AM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Every since I snagged my pack of Sham-Wows, I haven't bought napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, bath towels, hand towels, sheets, condoms, or sponges... A miracle product for sure! Those two Sham-Wows do EVERYTHING!

December 24, 2008 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger Roger said...

e... I keep waiting on the infomercials. I think the last time I saw one, they were only doubling the offer if I called within 30 minutes. I'm waiting until they at least triple the offer, maybe even hold out until they quadruple the offer. I'm willing to even make the call within 10 minutes, if only they would quadruple the offer.

December 24, 2008 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

You're not paying attention to the commercial. He specifically states that he "can't do this all day." As for me, I'm still spending at least $20.00 per month on paper towels. I feel so stupid.

December 25, 2008 at 9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has bugged me for a long time, too. I agree it has to do with ratings. It's like this: If I could turn on the 11 p.m. news and get the complete weather in 1-2 minutes, I'd turn the tv off and go to bed. But nooooooooooo. They want to string me along until about 11:15-11:20.

Why do they start the broadcast with weather? Cause if they start it with the latest killing on the hill you'd turn the tv off.

December 26, 2008 at 1:08 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

I like the intra-station teasers... like at 7pm you see a commercial with Wendy Bell saying "Something in YOUR refrigerator may be infected with HERPES! Find out what, at 11."

So now I have to avoid eating anything for 4 hours only to find out that the affected food is Hungarian Salsa Cheez-Whiz processed between January and February 1989...

What is supremely entertaining to me, though, is that local affiliate news is BIG bucks from an advertising perspective, but the news people are kept in a bubble regarding anything "commercial." No amount of money in the world will persuade Rick Henry or Hearst/Argyle to allow Sally Wiggen to endorse a product... but you can buy ad time in all the news broadcasts for Sham-Wows, penis pills, chia-heads, and diarrhea medicine :-)

I understand the philosophy, but the reality is... they are selling soap, they just aren't allowed to mention the soap, touch the soap, or be seen using the soap :-)

December 26, 2008 at 8:46 PM  

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