Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Outside

For those folks tired of weathergasms whenever nasty looking clouds roll into the MidSouth, you might as well suck it up. Just in time for the February sweeps we’ve had the equivalent of gasoline thrown on the meteorological fire. I ran across this item regarding tornadoes in the Memphis Flyer.
The article basically says that Memphis is in the top 20 when it comes to cities in America prone to be hit by tornadoes during the month of February. Memphis came in at 18th, ahead of Coral Springs, Florida and Oklahoma City. The Number One spot was claimed by St. Louis. Nashville and Little Rock came in at number Five and Eight respectively.
Don’t get me wrong, I think timely dissemination of severe weather information is important and can save lives. Plus, if a tornado is touching down in your general direction, you want to know where things are happening. But we just seem to have a reached a point where the weather folks are whipping out their big old radars and their weather team members to show us what all they do right down to street level. Sometimes I feel I’m back in a grade school locker room where the boys are bragging about what they can do if they’re given a chance.
There has to be a better way of doing things in covering the weather. I don’t know what the answer is but I do know so many people I’ve talked with feel that watching TV weather folks in Memphis when clouds blow up is very similar to listening to someone crying “Wolf!” Viewers have become desensitized in the same way that every car fire or traffic stop has earned the title of “Breaking News”. I’m not sure if people in the business even remember what “breaking news” is anymore. And it’s not just Memphis TV folks who do it. It’s just that Memphis happens to be where I reside.
There is one saving grace though. At least I don’t live in St. Louis.

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6 Comments on “Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Outside”

  1. Doug Johnson Says:

    Isn’t it incredible how much the emphasis on weather coverage has changed how we perceive our meteorologists? The days of David Letterman erasing the borderlines between states on his magnetic map are long gone. No news director would put up with a really funny weather person for long, probably saying that people wouldn’t “trust” a person with a sense of humor.

    I see this everyday, sitting next to the “Severe Weather Center” at a certain cable news network. And the electronic sign over the set changes to read “Hurricane Center” or “Eat at Joe’s,” or whatever the weather emergency happens to be.

    Of course, we could all just pick up a weather radio. It’ll send out an alert when things are really bad — so we can keep watching the “Law & Order” marathon on USA.

  2. Tommy Stafford Says:

    Evening Joe, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of VA where the snow is falling tonight and things are quiet. Beautiful blanket of snow covering everything.

    I couldn’t agree with you and Doug J. more. I remember one day when working in the weather office over at 5. It was under the recently “exited” news director. I remember the “Instalert” scrolling a flood warning about the Hatchie River at Rialto. Anyone who lives near the Hatchie River at the Tipton – Lauderdale Line knows that when a toilet flushes, that river rises. Anyway this was simply an advisory alert put out by the weather service. For whatever reason the alert system didn’t filter it and it scrolled. Of course the news director came running to the weather office insisting we break in to let viewers know about the impreding flood sure to sweep the county away just like Moses parting the sea!

    Soooo, that’s what I did, a nice little song and dance for a few minutes about the rising Hatchie River. All of that poor sage grass and a few soybeans planted near the river were well informed and knew to head for higher ground. And this was probably in 2000. I can’t imagine how insane it is now and what they must have all of the weather guys doing these days.

    But I’ll have to say, it’s not much better here 750 miles or so away. You’d think it was the first time a 3-5 inch snow has ever fallen here.

    Mmmmm, reminds me did I go to the store and get my milk and bread? What will I do????

  3. Average Guy Says:

    Joe,
    I believe those in the business get tired of things much quicker than the viewer. Take promos for example. Within the station, the staff wants to pull the P.O.P. before the viewers really notice it. The same is true with weather.

    Weather is the one thing local television can do that national cable networks cannot — report on the local conditions. Weather is the one thing that affects each and every viewer — unlike crime, taxes, education or any other story of the day. In fact, in my market — according to research we’ve conducted over the past five years — of the top 20 reasons viewers cite for watching local news weather and weather related stories makes up the top ten reasons. That includes severe weather and reporting on the effects of the storm.

    We have “weathergasms” because viewers respond and it moves the meter. If sports goosed the number, don’t you think we’d overdose on sports?

    The GM

  4. Joe Larkins Says:

    GM, as always, you make a good point.
    I know research I’ve seen over the years almost always shows “weather” to be a top draw for viewers.
    I guess my point is this: As a viewer I watch the weathercast to find out the current conditions, what’s showing on radar if it’s pertinent and what it’s going to do in the next couple of days. The accuracy beyond about three days is iffy at best.
    What I don’t need is someone beating me over the head with a weather stick because they have “Sooper-Dooper Gonad Big Dish Radar that can zoom in to show dog poop on the sidewalk”.
    I understand that stations invest big bucks in these weather packages with the graphics and radar and they need to get their money’s worth.
    And again, when severe weather threatens, it’s important to get that information out, especially to MeeMaw who’s living in some mobile home watching Wheel of Fortune all day long.
    I just think there has to be a way to convey warning information quickly and concisely without just beating us (the viewer) to death with it. Yes, having worked in a TV newsroom, I agree I’m probably more attuned to “weathergasms” and what passes for “breaking news”. But I hear the same thing from those who haven’t worked in a newsroom.
    People who rely on weather for their livelihood such as farmers and construction people tell me they wished that they could get a concise weather forecast without the BS.
    Look at the Weather Channel and the Local Weather on the 8s. If I have cable access, that’s where I go for concise weather information. They tell me what I need to know in about one minute. Unfortunately, I’m not always where I need to be to see the cable forecast and broadcast TV and satellite doesn’t offer this feature.
    I wish there was some way to strike a happy medium when it comes to coverage of severe weather. I just don’t know where that ground is.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Joe, I have to agree with the GM to a certain extent. Weather is relative.
    Never the less, some of our local people have started out reporting how a cactus got rained on out in Texas or, filling in with the statement:”our in-house super duper pooper scooper million gigawatt live action leggo mattel weather radar shows….” 52 seconds of how great we art seems to be a lot of time (expensive I might add) wasted.
    Yesterday one of our people said: “Oh my! It clicked one degree higher! This is real time weather action folks!” and I thought they were going to have to get the net for the guy. Ahhhwell……..it does “move the meter!”
    …………JD

  6. Tommy Stafford Says:

    Point well made GM, and I agree in theory with what you say, however … As Joe mentioned in the original post we have a responsibility to put forth the proper information about weather. The single biggest complaint I hear from viewers across the country is the constant trying to “one up” in the weather office. Going wall to wall for the sake of numbers over a 1/2″ snow or an afternoon “garden variety” (thanks Dave) thunderstorm is irresponsible and an overreaction. Period. Educated viewers have already stopped watching televison weather in part for this reason. They tend to go straight to the internet and get their information without someone running around like the world is ending. Granted in real severe weather everyone watches, including me.

    I agree GM, this gives numbers a jump, and yes, local stations can do weather better than anyone since it is “local.” But I can get a jump from drinking red bull, a pot of coffee, and two candy bars, but probably not the best thing for me.

    But, I do see where management is put into a difficult catch 22 now. Even if station A stopped doing all of this silly stuff, station B probably wouldn’t. You have to be willing to strap in for the long haul to ever get beyond it, and that may take years and loss of some numbers initially.


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