Posted by: pyeager | September 1, 2009

There’s No Business Like Snow Business

The publication Smart Money recently wrote an article about the 10 Things that Weather Forecasters Don’t Want You to Know, which is part of their Spending Rip-offs section.

I’m going to look at one of their statements today:

“We’re often more show biz than science”

This depends on who you ask. If you’re talking about a meteorologist who is forecasting for a utility company, then the answer is no; there would certainly be no benefit to be sensationalistic. There are certainly many, many types of important forecasts that are not the least bit glamorous or glitzy.

It’s Show Time

If you’re talking about a meteorologist who works for a media company, whether it be TV or the Internet, then the answer might certainly be yes. This might be surprising (said sarcastically), but people who depend on ratings often depend on glitz more than substance. This glitz usually takes the form of sensationalism and hype, always highlighting the potentially serious parts of the storm.

Just as not all news reporters will sacrifice integrity for ratings, neither will all meteorologists. Some will, however, and that’s how a run-of-the-mill winter snowstorm becomes four days of non-stop coverage with a meteorologist, with traffic zipping past in the background, telling people it’s too dangerous to travel.

It’s how the location of a landfalling hurricane becomes littered with satellite trucks from every major media outlet in the country, with a competition among ego-driven reporters to stand in the most dangerous spot.

It’s also how stories about legitimate weather threat, such as a possible tornado in a major city at some point in the future, become fictional tales of unimaginable destruction told in the present tense.

Oh, I could go on, but you get the point–a great deal of “weather” coverage is sensationalistic.

–Paul Yeager

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