Hype or Help: The Fine Line Between Weather Warnings and Scare Tactics

Categories: Weather

Yeah, don't be this guy.
Whenever there is a storm approaching, news media outlets go a little crazy. They know that, quite often, storms equal big ratings. No only are people watching for warnings, but they are sometimes captive participants in the drama unfolding outside their homes. The problem is when weather is hyped to the point that people lose interest and tune out forecasts that could save their lives.

In recent years, the hype machine, particularly at national broadcast news outlets, has grown so enormous that the weather version of CNN, The Weather Channel, has taken to naming storm systems over land the way the National Hurricane Service names tropical storms. The latest Snowpocalypse was referred to as Leon. Classy.

This is simply a continuation of what news outlets have done for years, just on a much larger scale. It used to be that only the Weather Channel would send its people into the heart of a storm. Weathercasters like Jim Cantore made names for themselves by being filmed as they were pelted by sideways rain and nearly blown off their bearings by better-than-gale-force winds.

Frankly, if they weren't so difficult to predict, I wouldn't be surprised to see news services creating their own teams of storm chasers to go after tornadoes. For now, we can only bear witness to the gruesome aftermath.

But it is important to understand the distinction between hype and help. Forecasts, as I've explained before, are extraordinarily difficult to make accurately, particularly in big cities like Houston where the metro area is spread out over hundreds of miles. Forecasts, by their very nature here, must be generalized. Anyone with some history here knows that the weather in League City is often decidedly different from the weather in Tomball.

So when people complain that closures of streets were unnecessary, perhaps they were for where you are, but when you must account for an entire region, it's a different story.

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I don't think we can totally blame the local media this time. They, for the most part had the storm timed correctly and the Ntl Weather Service got involved and called a warning. It is my belief that that warning is what put the hype in the news -- but can you blame them? They were conveying information that came from the Ntl Weather Service. And it could have been very bad had all the snow and ice happened. Have you seen or heard about what happened in Atlanta? 

I will say that the news coverage on Channel 11 (didn't flip channels, so I don't know if others did the same, but they probably did) yesterday morning was over-the-top-stupid. Nothing was happening and they devoted ... what.... 3 hours or something to that stupid nonevent. They should have just said, we were wrong, have a good day and turn the station back over the network programming. 


I think he is right about the hype/ratings in media and it's not just the weather. They love to play it up when it comes to race also. I personally believe they should be held accountable for putting ratings before responsible journalism. "Details at ten"

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