Just when you thought on-the-spot weather reporting in the 24-hour news universe couldn’t get more ridiculous, The Weather Channel outdoes itself once again.
This time, they’ve decided to begin naming major winter storms, just like the National Hurricane Center does with major tropical storms. Their reasoning is that it will promote better awareness, which will lead to fewer storm-related injuries and fatalities.
They’re adamant about it, too:
“The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation ... Winter storms occur on a time and space scale that is similar to tropical systems.”
Clearly, they’ve never lived “out here” in the middle country, where the mere mention of “winter storm watch” will lead to an immediate and complete run on the local grocery stores. If you don’t react fast enough, you’re going to ride out the storm with a box of saltine crackers and a two-liter bottle of Canada Dry.
Apparently names like “Snowmageddon” and “Snowpocalypse” weren’t enough. Oh, and who could forget “Snowtober” from 2011?
Now we have an A-to-Z list that includes such favorites as “Draco” (the Greek politician, not Harry Potter’s archnemesis at Hogwarts) and “Gandolf” (actually named for the wizard in Tolkein’s Middle Earth books). Until I saw the list of names — which clearly came from a bunch of weather geeks — I was picturing something more along these lines:
[Jim Cantore, wearing a parka with the hood pulled over his head, stands outside a clearly abandoned downtown scene. Snow can clearly be seen whipping around in the background. Cantore has trouble standing up from time to time.]
Cantore [to the desk anchor]: “Wintercane Blitzen is really packing a punch, even though the center of the storm is still more than a hundred miles away from us here in downtown Chicago. It’s packing 60 mph winds and snow rates of almost an inch per hour, which is why we gave it a Category Candy Cane rating.”
Desk anchor: “Jim, it looks like it’s pretty dangerous out there. What can you tell us about this storm?”
Cantore: “Well, it is very dangerous out here. Folks, if you don’t have any reason to be out, please stay indoors. This is a very dangerous storm and only highly trained professionals such as myself should be out here. Let us be your eyes and ears during this potentially lethal storm.”
Desk anchor: “What is the potential of this storm to intensify?”
Cantore: “According to the National Weather Service forecasting station in Lincoln, Illinois, they expect Blitzen to reach Category Snowball later tonight. If that happens, we have the potential for some real snow accum-”
[Suddenly a flash of lightning and the crackle of thunder can be heard from overhead.]
Cantore: “Oooh! Sheez! Listen to that! Son of a- That’s unbelievable!”
[Another flash of lightning and the crackle of thunder erupts.]
Cantore: “Oh, my goodness!” [Looks up above for a few seconds] “Holy smoke! Just incredible!” [Yelling across the empty street to another weather reporter for a competing network] “Yo, Robby! Twice in one storm, baby! Holy smoke!”
[The Weather Channel cuts to commercial.]
OK, so I have the benefit of having seen several of Jim Cantore’s “finer moments” on YouTube, but surely you could picture this happening, too. And, of course, that’s what the folks at The Weather Channel are hoping for.
You see, they’re very much interested in keeping you indoors during a winter storm, but they want you glued to their network the whole time. They hope if they do something wildly absurd — and yes, quite a bit dangerous — you will want to tune in to see what happens.
It’s the same reason why the NBC Sports Network airs “Monster Jam” monster truck events. They don’t really believe demolishing trucks is a legitimate sport. But they know that human beings can’t wait to see something completely destroyed.
And if something winds up getting severely damaged in the process of attempting to destroy something, all the better.
Another thought on the matter would be this is why “America’s Funniest Videos” has been on television for more than 20 years. It’s why David Letterman still has “Stupid Human Tricks” and why Jay Leno still goes “Jaywalking.”
If safety was the real reason for naming storms, you wouldn’t see Jim Cantore outside, acting like a buffoon everytime a couple inches of fine powder shows up on the streets of a major metropolitan area. Because, if anything, showing him “out in it” on TV, even on a channel most people don’t even watch, will only lead to the inevitable “copycat syndrome.”
It’s another common human condition. We see something stupid and we decide we could do it stupider. Except when we try, someone invariably loses an important appendage.
And that wouldn’t look on good on YouTube. Not for anyone.
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Bob Eschliman is editor of the Newton Daily News. He may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at firstname.lastname@example.org via email. Common Sense appears each Monday and Wednesday.