Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weather or Not

If I was not on vacation this week, I would have written this (as found in today's Washington Post):

Live on the radar: It’s Armageddon!

By Alexandra Petri, Friday, August 26,4:15 PM

I am deeply disturbed by all the alarmist rhetoric on television. Shouting. Chaos. Fear-mongering.
Fox? MSNBC? Amateurs!

I’m talking about the Weather Channel.

John the Baptist had nothing on these people. Only some of the people who heard him repented.

I repented eight times during a single Weather Channel broadcast this week. I was a mere half-hour into my first Weather Channel marathon when I made a will, covered my house in plastic sheeting and started to hoard canned goods.

Since I tuned into the Weather Channel, my outlook on life has been altered. I no longer shop; I stockpile. When indoors, I cower beneath a desk, just to stay in form. Once I went outdoors, but I thought I saw a haboob and rushed back in again. My blood pressure could probably form a pressure front of its own.

I have been watching the Weather Channel for the past 24 hours straight as Hurricane Irene advances up the coast. It was difficult to write from my bunker under a desk, but it was clear from the Storm Tracker coverage that it would have been foolhardy to do otherwise.

If you want to provoke widespread fear and trembling, forget Glenn Beck and cable TV’s talking heads. Find that man in a drenched raincoat who seems to be screaming into gale-force winds at all times.

But there is science behind him. Over the years, our methodology of predicting the weather has evolved. (Unless you are running for the Republican presidential nomination, in which case it might be better to avoid the e-word.)

Once, we predicted the weather by asking Uncle Mort if his knee was doing that thing again. Now, we have Doppler radar, hi-res imaging, computer models and experts who can tell us with absolute certainty that Uncle Mort’s knee is doing that thing again. It’s all the fun of gadgetry combined with the whimsical delight of a game of darts. Most weather forecasts can be boiled down to “Reckon it’ll rain. If not, it won’t,” give or take dozens of apocalyptic adverbs and statistics about how No One Has Seen Anything Like This Since the 1930s.

“It might drizzle” and “Surely we have come unto the end of days!”are two ways of saying generally the same thing.

This could be the hurricane of our lifetime, the Weather Channel intones. That is also what forecasters said about the last hurricane. They’re bound to be right at some point. And in the meantime, it’s ratings gold.

Weather is my one form of continuous fiction. Soap operas require too much suspension of disbelief. Game shows? Not enough lightning. I’d watch “Jersey Shore,” but only because I heard that area will be affected by the recent weather developments.

It’s like politics, but you have to keep fewer names straight, and there is no fear that at some point you will have to discuss the contents of Anthony Weiner’s underwear. And like politics, not knowing anything about it does not preclude forming strong opinions.

As I understand it, all weather is the result of some small event somewhere obscure that gets magnified out of proportion. A butterfly flaps its wings in the Andes, or somebody coughs in Iowa, and soon a storm begins. In politics, we call this process the primaries. The major difference is that the butterfly will eventually have enough sense to stop flapping.

If a butterfly in Iowa flaps its wings and starts a hurricane, it is possible we will get away with a little light property damage and some cows flying off to parts unknown. After the straw polls, we should be so lucky.
In the meantime, it is imperative that we make a lot of noise and sound all the alarm bells.

They say all this shouting is what we need to get people moving to safety. But it’s hard staying this alarmed all the time. Don’t panic! Stay tuned! I can do only one of those at once.

Is it really Worse Than It’s Ever Been? Surely something like this happened in the 1860s. But it’s impossible to tell through all the shouting. Compared with the weather, cable news is a relief. At least those windbags are limited in their capacity.

Maybe it’s the same in politics. Maybe things aren’t worse than ever. Maybe they’re just louder. After all, this is what it takes to get us off the couch.

But who’s getting off the couch? I have to stay tuned to the Weather Channel.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog at

I'm back next week! - MSRP

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