Are you over the extreme weather coverage? Are you recalling the story, the boy who cried wolf? Mountain out of a mole hill comes to mind when you see the spectacle on TV? You’re not alone. Many have tuned out when it comes to severe weather due to the over dramatization of it. Every storm has to be severe, every storm could produce damaging hail, wind, and a tornado despite atmospheric conditions that say otherwise. These are the types of things that cause people to tune out the weather, and that can place your life in danger.
So how did we get here? Believe it or not, you’re to blame. You see, you love the weather, everyone does. It’s an easy subject matter to approach and discuss and often in everyday conversation topics. Consultants realized this and capitalized on local TV news. They know you watch the newscast for the weather. So it makes sense that when severe weather occurs, you’ll tune in, strengthening their brand and gaining your trust. That leads to an increase in ratings which allows the station to generate more advertising revenue from their clients. So to keep you tuned in, and ratings up, they give you weather anytime and every time it happens. Now during an actual live severe weather coverage event, there are no commercials, so they actually lose some revenue during this time. However, they more than make up for it by increasing viewership and essentially it’s advertising their product the entire time. The money they make on the back-end by being able to charge advertisers more, is how the model works. So let’s get back to the weather coverage aspect of it.
I won’t say who it was or what station, but I had a terse exchange with a news director one time. A shower had popped up and a competing station put their “bug” up. It’s the state or region map in the corner of the screen over programming. This map/bug shows counties highlighted in colors corresponding to the weather threat. In this particular case, it was just a shower, with no lightning. So I didn’t put our bug up. My news director asked why and I stated because it’s nothing to worry about, even though the other station had it listed as a “strong storm”. I was asked to put the map up. My reply was something to the effect; “I’m not selling myself out for a raindrop”. The news director’s reply was, “well then I’ll find somebody else that will”. So I put the bug up because the idea of being unemployed for standing on my principles doesn’t pay the bills. I did however realize at that time how the game was played.
So how does this translate into what you see? Using my example, you can see how the weather is going to be used as a tool to get your attention. Some of the comments made about storms are simply unethical or deceiving. There’s a lot of “wishcasting” that goes on as well. In some cases the person you are watching on television may not have a meteorology degree, or even if they do have one may be weak in knowledge over a certain subject matter. They’re prone to make mistakes when they live by the “fake it till you make it” mantra. Remember, the worst thing for them to do is cover up 30 minutes of your favorite show to promise a threat of severe weather, only to have a sprinkle move through. It’s not just severe weather; it’s also winter weather and wildfires. Live shots, field crews, weather graphics, anything and everything is used at their disposal to get you to watch. So as long as you do so, nothing will change. You vote your distaste with the channel button on the remote. Once ratings drop, revenue follows suit and a clear message is sent.
That said, going back to my first point, I don’t think being able to tune completely out is fully possible, as you do love the weather and you will return to see legitimate threats of severe weather when they occur, and you should for your own safety and that of your family. The difference is the source you turn to. You are no longer anchored to your local news to get this information. Mobile weather apps and websites with live radar and computer algorithms can tell you what you need to know to stay safe. A NOAA Weather Radio is still a great tool to have at your disposal which is a direct feed from the National Weather Service. So if you choose to turn off the TV, make sure your alternate sources are viable. Even with sensational coverage lives can be saved by providing you information that you can act upon. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad or look at it as a necessary evil. In the end, it’s always a choice.
I do want to note that there is definitely a value in covering severe weather when it’s actually happening, such as the recent May 20th 2013 event. The picture above shows that when an EF5 tornado is ripping through a large city, you will watch and rightfully so. There’s no hype during this period, only information on where the tornado is and where it is going. I certainly have no problems with that. In our example of May 20th, the combined TV ratings were higher than the Superbowl!