It’s not always easy being the fluff.
When people tune in to the local news they want to know about what is happening close to home. Who got shot? Who was in the wreck that had the highway backed up? Who got flashed as they jogged on the parkway? That’s the meat of the news. To that you add a little personal interest piece about the girl that befriended the old man or the dog that was rescued from the icy lake. Then stir in a quick recap of the local sports scores and you have a newscast. Unfortunately when you add that up you only have 16 minutes of a 30 minute spot. Luckily there are 6 minutes of commercials but you are still 8 minutes short. You need some fluff to fill the rest of your air time. That is where the local weather guy or gal comes in.
Weather forecasting is defined as the application of science and technology to predict the state of the atmosphere for a given location. If that were the extent of the job, it probably wouldn’t be that bad. Use science, make predictions and move on to the next day. But for as long as I can remember watching the news, the weatherman has also been utilized as a hook. They come in early in the newscast to cover current weather conditions (look out the window) and then cast the lure of some erratic weather pattern way out west that they will be back to discuss towards the end of broadcast.
Generally it’s a pretty good gig with a lot of upside. You get to be a local “celebrity” so you’re in parades and get to play in the donkey basketball fund-raiser. (If you’re not from around here, yes that is a thing.) Sure you probably get stopped every time you go to the store and the ‘I thought you said partly sunny?’ jokes get old but other than that there isn’t much stopping you from doing it forever. In fact the local guy here has been doing it for 27 years.
So life is always sunny for the weather guy, except when there is a weather event like we had last week.
Unless you were under a rock you probably heard that we (most of the Midwest) were supposed to have an ice storm of biblical proportions. The local stations started talking about it weeks before it even developed in the Rockies. As the 7 day window approached it was all any one was talking about. This is where the hook can get you in trouble. Meteorologists across the state stood just a little taller the start of that storm week. They had an air of importance when they presented the doom and gloom that was to be coming for the weekend and why wouldn’t they? The information they were sharing was going to save lives.
The feel good stories of a week before quickly changed to reports from the local Westlakes where Assistant Manager Jim pined about the best type of ice melt to use for numerous ice scenerios. Each night the local highway department manager was interviewed as to their readiness, capped off with the obligatory shot of piles of salt ready for the loading. You see, people that were accustomed to being the hook bait at the end of the news had actually become the news and hat spotlight is not easy to give up once you felt its warmth.
By Thursday the path of the storm had become hard to predict but we were assured that Ice-ageddon was most definitely still headed our way. Grocery stores emptied of water, milk and bread. Schools and church services were cancelled days in advance. An NFL playoff game was even delayed.
The storm was supposed to hit us on Saturday but by Friday it was apparent to the meteorological collective that their best hope for redemption rested early Sunday morning. As I let the dogs out an eerie silence blanketed the town but that was about it. The ground was wet and the porch seemed slippery but the trees were not glazed in ice. I grabbed my coffee and tuned into the Kansas City news.
They had reporters staged all around the metro area that were desperately searching for ice. One noted that the curb he was standing by was covered in ice, almost as if some unfortunate person would have to walk on it. Another reported that she had witnessed a truck slow to a stop near her position and when they pulled away their tires had spun slightly. This song and dance went on for over an hour, with no significant ice to be found. Finally a mobile unit that had traveled about an hour south found visible ice on trees and even a couple of branches down. His face beamed as they panned in for a close up of a tree branch that was beautifully coated in ice. It was just what they had been searching for, justification of their ominous prediction. When they pulled back to the reporter a car buzzed by in the background, foiled.
Slowly the tone of the newscast began to change. The weather lady that had spent the week preparing us for the worst was suddenly happy that we had been spared, “The most important thing is that everyone is safe.” There was a noticeable emphasis being placed on the drastic difference even one half of one degree can make in this type of event. By 9:00 AM I actually witnessed a weatherman turn on his own saying, “I didn’t want to bring this up but the Weather Center guys said this storm would be crippling!”
By no means am I saying that predicting the weather is easy. Weather people have been the brunt of jokes for decades and Mother Nature can be fickle. What I am saying is that maybe it is time for the local news casts to find a new hook… some new fluff. The weather app on my phone detailed exactly how the storm ended up playing out days in advance. Actually I just read about a company that uses an algorithm to data mine weather stats. They can predict the weather with an 80% accuracy in any region of the world, a full year in advance. So really I’m just trying to help the stations evolve to the new normal. Weather will always be a primary topic of conversation; maybe we just don’t need them to skew it for us anymore. I can’t hear Millennial kids saying, “Did you hear what Mike said the weather was going to do?” Or texting it for that matter.
And what became of our local prognosticator the week after the big storm that never was? Conveniently he was off for a few days, which leads me to wonder if he was just lucky enough to have been off to start the week after such a big miss or if he knew they were off and requested it on purpose?