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Monday, May 17, 2010

Today On The News ...

When I was a kid, we never watched the weather portion of the news unless it was summer and storming (which delayed our outdoor adventures) or we were praying to the "Snow Gods" that the cold winds outside would close our school system. To be honest, it was usually the radio that delivered the announcement on whether we'd be sledding down Sargent's Hill or checking water levels in our crayfish pool during life sciences class.

And two decades ago the weather was kinda boring, a quick few moments of meteorological data delivered by either a nervous-but-pretty young lady (meant to garner male viewers, no doubt) or an established, blazer-wearing news veteran (like Ted Baxter, the uber-news guy from the Mary Tyler Moore Show) who often reappeared at the very end of the broadcast to handle the sports coverage. Either way, the segment was brisk, with the media personality gesturing to a vague area map with red and green lines. They looked like strings of team pennants, but they represented all the elements of nature raging (or not) outside our window.

But today, I've noticed that, if there's a storm brewing in the sky, the weather becomes as front-and-center as an attempted political assassination. There are constant interrupts and scrolling marquees to alert me to the slightest changes in temperature and barometric pressure. "Doppler" this and "thermal conversion" that are reported almost as they occur. And when the regular newscast comes around, it starts with the weather, fills with the weather, and ... wait for it ... ends with the weather.

Just recently, when a spring storm system moved through my area of the state, the movers and shakers of the local network outlets commandeered major air time for coverage of the storm ... "Oprah," believe it or not, was pre-empted and re-aired later that evening. There was almost 90 minutes of non-stop weather reporting. They covered everything ... a quick snippet from a university professor on how storms form ... phone call sound bites from "weather watchers" from throughout the area ... cuts to reporters I've never seen before showing me tree branches in the middle of intersections or old pickup trucks trying to drive through four feet of water on back roads. And, of course, there were the man-on-the-street interviews with business owners fighting to crank down the awnings on their storefronts or just passersby who stopped for the camera to show us that, you too, can have fun while soaked to the skin.

And then out came the technology ... there were animations that let the viewers travel through the various layers of the storm. Maps showed and actually counted lightning strikes in and around local communities. And some type of thermal imaging science allowed us to see the different temperatures of air mixing and churning from the upper atmosphere down to very near surface level. Watching the weather is now nearly as bizarre as going to a sci-fi convention, or interrupting your usual channel surfing with a few moments of the NASA Channel ... yeah, NASA has a channel and they broadcast some pretty strange and amazing stuff!

Also, during the storms I mentioned, the announcer kept flashing a detailed time schedule ... like the electronic information board at the airport ... for when the worst of the weather would hit each suburb, town, and village. He updated it constantly like he was afraid someone from "Hooterville" would call to complain that the storm was late or something. Between time table updates the weather report would switch to a separate animation that would zoom down to a scale where we would see the storm intensity info overlayed with detailed street maps. I bet I could have ran outside and viewers would have seen me waving when the guy covered my neck of the woods.

People do seem to be fascinated by weather in general. Most cable companies offer a systems channel with constant local radar data and weather stats. And for those of us who travel a great deal (or have trouble sleeping), we have the Weather Channel at our clicker-tips. Why settle for local coverage when you can see that showers are forcing the people of Holland to use umbrellas or that the sunrise in Singapore was especially lovely yesterday.

POINT OF RANT: I have a $4.99 outdoor thermometer hanging near my front window. Between that an an annual eye exam, I have all the weather forecasting I need.

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