Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Weather without the Foreplay

I don’t mean to be crass, but think about the way the local weather forecast is delivered in the late evening news. They start to talk about it at the tail end of the first block but never really get us there.

Here’s the basic format: It’s “news” from 11:00 to 11:09, then the resident weather geek with a first name from 1952 like Norm, Stan, or Kip with all smiles tells us what already happened today.

We get what the high and low temperatures were today, when the sun rose and set, and what the dew point was. That’s right, was. So we get what we’ve already experienced unless we decided to stay inside all day with the shades drawn or we work at a casino. That’s not a weather forecast, it’s a recap.

Then they might tease us with some overnight temps, which is the beginnings of a forecast, but it’s not what we’re waiting for. Besides, it’s almost midnight. Predicting the next 12 hours isn’t really that difficult. It’s a fairly accepted concept that it will, in fact, get cooler overnight, regardless of your location or the season.

Then they tell us there’s more to come later in the full forecast. Well that was rather unsatisfying but I’m not going anywhere. So I sit through some commercials and more “news”. Eventually we get to the full forecast. The anchor usually segues with something novel like, “Boy, it was a cold one today, wasn’t it, Charlie? What do you have in store for us tomorrow?” Our favorite Doppler-junkie chortles, reminds us he doesn’t actually control the weather, and sashays over to the green screen to work his magic.

And he works it slowly.

We get the same info we got in the top segment, now with some history. We get the day’s high and low temperatures again, but now with a comparison to what they should have been, the record low dating back to the 1800s and the record high. No Farmer’s Almanac reference? I’m disappointed.

Next we get the current temperature. Well, temperatures. Everywhere. There are dozens of them. Luckily, Byron only has time to mention a few. [Honestly, I do get excited when they name my town – I don’t know why. “22 degrees in Whoville! Represent!”] And just to drag it on even longer, we get what the temps “feel” like. Hmmm. Wind makes us feel colder. But exactly how much colder, Chad? Apparently my tactile senses can’t help me. I need a number.

Well, we’ve discussed the current temperatures we could have ascertained by poking our heads outside in one collective motion, and we’ve illustrated quite effectively that they do fluctuate a few degrees the further north, south, east or west one might travel. Great. What about my drive tomorrow? I need to go to sleep.

But first, the sunrise/sunset and high tide/low tide. Are you kidding me? I don’t set my schedule by the sun - no offense, farmers - or by the moon’s pull on our shorelines - no offense, crabbers, shuckers, fishermen, CSIs (I hear low tide is the best time to find the bodies).

OK, surely now I can plan my morning…Hold up, satellite & radar. Do we really need both? It is some expensive equipment, and they’re constantly bragging about it, so no surprise we’re gonna get some pictures. And we take it all on faith. They could be using Google Earth and Microsoft Paint and we’d be none the wiser.

I’m alright with the images…it’s the science lesson that bothers me. Every single night. High pressure, low pressure, warm fronts, cold fronts. Jiminy H. Christmas. TMI! No offense to the profession. I’m glad you enjoy your job, but Flipper the Moneymaker doesn’t take us back through macroeconomics every time he delivers the DOW closing.

So class is over and finally I can…nope, false alarm. It’s tomorrow’s lite forecast: wake up, lunch time and afternoon. Another slow tease that finally leads into the seven-day forecast. You couldn’t open with that? Really? And they have to whip through it because Sparky still has scores to deliver and they’re running behind, so I have to decipher the graphics (is that lightning, wind or snow on Thursday?).

I think we could get our entire local news in under 30 seconds:

Today there were 8 murders and 3 fires. The economy sucks it. A local, national, or foreign politician did something questionable or corrupt today (probably both). Here’s an outrageous story about a random person you feel comfortable judging but won’t remember in two weeks. Puppies are still cute. In sports, we won! Flash the weather graphic and "Thank you, good night!"

Maybe I really just want to know why everyone follows the same format. Local or network evening or morning news. How about mixing it up? Bring some happy. And not the patronizing, insincere stuff or kitchen segments; just something truly positive.

Simplify the weather and give it to us earlier. Later in the broadcast, you can show us how your past predictions actually fared. Show me last week’s seven-day forecast and how close you were. Give us a real measure of your prognostication skills and we’ll decide who has the most accurate forecast in town.

Idea for April Fools: Replace the extended forecast with tonight’s power ball numbers and see if anyone really notices.

Maybe the truly amazing thing is how much time I just spent talking about the weather, knowing it’s online whenever I want it and there is no reason to sit through a local newscast at all.

George Carlin really nailed the absurd side of weather forecasting as Al Sleet, the Hippie-Dippie Weatherman back in the 70s…

“Tonight's forecast: Dark. Continued dark throughout most of the evening, with some widely scattered light towards morning.”

“Currently it's 70 degrees at the airport, which is stupid because I don't know anybody who lives at the airport.”


AnnaM said...

Not weather related, but what's up with the local news station 'triumvirate?' "First, Fair, Everywhere" "Local, Live and on Your Side!" Pfft!

Mike said...

I hear you, Anna! I like a Baltimore station's alliteration with "Live, Local and Late-breaking".

Live? As is every other station.

Local? Obviously, as are your competitors (my local news isn't coming in from Dubai). And having a local reporter head out into the field for national stories that are already covered by their network pros seems like a waste in budget and often silly.

Late-breaking? I appreciate being kept up-to-date but giving early, unsubstantiated, and often incorrect info ain't cool. Double-pfft!

AnnaM said...

It's all poo, Mike. Poo.

Mark said...

Mike, did you catch Bill Maher this week. He did a riff on the Snuggles. You should get royalties. Also on the forecasts. I am reminded of a bit by George Carlin as the Hippy-dippy weather man. He said that ' tonights forecast will be: Dark followed by gradual light and brightening during the day."

Mike said...

Hi Mark!

Didn't catch Maher. And apparently you didn't read this all the way through. Check out the end of the post. :-)


Anonymous said...

You know what's funny? As soon as I got the the part where you got to the weather, I stopped reading and went to bed.

Mike said...

Yes, I can be quite long-winded.