Why So Much Weather?

April 3, 2006 | By | 3 Replies More

A quick question, please.  Why does each local TV newscast have almost five minutes of weather?  I’m not talking about those days when a big snowstorm is about to hit.  I’m talking about a typical weather day.  Who makes the decision to beat mediocre weather into the ground each night, and why?

I’ve discussed this with quite a few people I respect and no one knows.  Is it because of the stiff price the station has paid for all those expensive machines that generate the fancy weather graphics?  Is it because weather people are usually such wholesome-looking people (translated: a bit too wholesome)?  Are they trying to encourage us to be squeaky clean like that?  I can’t be that person, damn it.  

Here’s what I want.  For those increasingly rare times when I can tolerate the local new-less newscast, all I want from the weather segment is the five-day forecast, something that can be accomplished in ten seconds:

Tonight:  low in the 40’s and dry.   Tomorrow:  low of 45, rainy, temp rising to 55.  The next three days – fair weather, temp gradually warming into the 60’s.  

There.  I know what to expect.  I’m quite happy, even if it’s not exactly on target.  When they get it wrong, it’s rarely terribly wrong and it really doesn’t matter anyway.  The weather will be what it will be.  They aren’t creating the weather, only guessing about it.  I’ve been through this drill about a million times.  Because most of us aren’t farmers anymore, we really won’t lose sleep worrying about inaccurate weather. 

But that weather person isn’t happy until we know all the weather.  For instance, she’ll be offended unless we let her spend 60 seconds reading the current temperature in each of a dozen nearby towns, even though they are all within five degrees of each other.  Some things are better in person, of course, but I can’t imagine buying a ticket to hear a live reading of current temperatures by a properly dressed happy person.

But there’s more.  She’ll need to pull out the graphics with those crests and troughs, explaining the technicalities in great detail to an oblivious lay audience, oblivious because it is high on potato chips.  

Perhaps all of this extra energy is self-defeatist.   Perhaps these meteorologists spend such time on the technicalities just to let us know that it is difficult to be a weather forecaster.  So difficult that, maybe, we’ll forgive them when they’re wrong if we are constantly reminded how difficult it is. But I’d forgive them for imperfect weather even without such long forecasts.  I know that weather is mathematically chaotic.  It’s a complex adaptive system.  I know about the long-term effect of a butterfly flapping its wings in Rio.   I forgive you, I forgive you.  Now let’s move on!  But they won’t . . .

We don’t need to know that rainfall did not set any records last month.  Why do they do this to us?  Is this the five-minute weather lull where the station is pumping in subliminal commercial messages?  What is she saying now?  That this summer it is expected to be “a bit warmer than usual”?  Someone, please help me to understand.

There.  My five minutes are up.  Thanks for letting me get this off my chest.  

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Category: Media

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Doug says:

    My grandfather used to say that weather forecasting was the one job that paid people to be wrong.

    Actually, I'm guessing the reason the weather consumes much time is because it's an easy way for the TV station to fill air time every day — the same reason they cover so many obscure local sporting events. Every news program needs to fill 30 minutes of air time, but investigating and reporting about real stories costs money, so the easiest and (more importantly) the most reliable way to fill the daily pipeline is with guaranteed daily information.

    Lest anyone think I'm letting meteorologists off the hook, I have my own beef with them: verbosity. Specifically, why do TV weather forecasters insert the word "hours" into every sentence? "Morning" has become "the morning hours," "afternoon" has become "the afternoon hours," "noon" has become "the noontime hour," and on and on it goes. One forecaster where I live even turned "sunrise" into "the sunrise hour." Another one first turned "overnight" into "the overnight hours," and then bastardized that phrase into "THE overnight." So, instead of having "rain tonight followed by sunshine tomorrow morning," we get "rain in the overnight followed by sun during the sunrise hour." Unfortunately, this bad habit seems to be highly contagious, so if meteorologists in your city aren't doing this yet, they probably soon will be. Anything to fill air time.

  2. Mindy Carney says:

    Don't get me started on VERBOSITY. Or bad grammar over the airwaves by those we are supposed to look to for truth and information. It's ugly out there. Radio, TV, management of any random corporation – all those little grammatical quirks that drove my mother crazy lurk everywhere and sting like nasty, annoying insects. Nothing serious, won't kill you, but will cause you to itch and scratch until you are deadened to it and find yourself saying the following to your employees: "I'll be in meetings all day but get back to Gary or myself on that as soon as you can."

    I can't get back to yourself, buddy. Only you can do that. I'll get back to you, but not yourself. Is "me" just too remedial a word to use in the workplace? If you get back to myself, instead of getting back to me, am I more important? Argh. One of those verbal assails that might possibly drive me right out of my mind.

    Right along with "hours," that use of "myself" is merely a way to inflate speech to simply take up more space, under the guise that somehow that makes it – or the speaker – more important. The meteorologist must matter more if s/he takes up that much air time. The boss' six-figure salary must be justified if simply identifying him requires an extra syllable than the average employee.

    Butchering our language has become almost commonplace – if we aren't grammatically incorrect or inflated beyond recognition, we are misusing words under the guise of euphemistic . . . kindness? I read something not long ago about the word "issue," how individuals no longer have problems in our culture, but issues. Our children have learning issues, we have marital issues, we have medical issues.

    Good thing we no longer have problems, because if we did, we'd have to solve them. With an issue, we can just excuse every negative thing that happens by pointing to our issues. Problems require solutions. Issues only require recognition. If we know what our issues are, we can try to work around them. Which is fine, except issues never go away. With the identification of a problem and some direct work toward a solution, we could solve the silly thing and make the problem go away. No more issues!

    Which is why, of course, I have issues with the misuse of language. Big issues. Which explains my crankiness. Don't go expecting me to solve it.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    I know I've already had my say on this topic, but I just read the following article in Salon that adds an ironic twist to my post:

    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/04/04/weat

    For all the time they waste on the air, weather forecasters all over the country are failing to report the biggest weather story of all: global warming.

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