I can’t stand weather news.
Of all the kinds of news that can strike, weather is the worst.
The reason I can’t stand it is the same one that causes you to take an umbrella along even if the forecast says it probably won’t rain — everyone knows the forecast is usually at least a little off. Weather is broadly predictable, but in the nitty gritty details it’s still pretty unpredictable.
And when it comes to news, I can’t stand trying to report on things that haven’t happened and might never happen.
Weather is custom-made for television. Forecasters can tell it’s coming, and they can paint colorful maps to show what’s coming, and they can talk about it endlessly before anything ever materializes. Then it gets here, and someone can stand out in the weather and tell the camera what’s happening. Then it goes away, and even if it didn’t amount to much, someone can stand outside next to a puddle and tell the camera what did or didn’t happen.
And that range of unknowns ahead of time, the portion of it that is not predictable, is why TV loves to talk about it. There are multiple scenarios. It takes time to cover them, and you can draw a different map for each one.
I’ve had reporters who ask me, after TV has been hyping a coming storm for two days but the storm is still two days out, “Shouldn’t we do a story?”
I answer, “About what? When the story runs tomorrow, the storm will still be a day away. The forecast could change.”
Forecasters will tell you for several days about a potential weather disaster, such as a winter storm or a potentially tornado-spewing line of thunderstorms, or a hurricane, and what hazards may be involved.
After all that buildup, eventually the weather gets here — or it moves somewhere else. Whether it arrives or moves, the result is almost always less than the worst-case scenario.
WE COULD GET A FOOT OF SNOW! But we get 2 inches.
THE HURRICANE COULD MERGE WITH THIS HUGE STORM! But the hurricane slides off to the east.
Hurricane Joaquin was a Category 3 hurricane heading for the Carolinas, where it would smash together with a giant cold front. Then it was a Category 4 heading for the Outer Banks, Virginia or New York, there to smash with the front. Then it started heading out to sea, to smash with nothing.
Worst is a weather system that arrives with lousy timing. For any newspaper, “lousy timing” means after deadline, when it’s simply too late for us to get anything in the paper.
For a while it looked like the worst of this weekend’s weather might hit Caldwell County on Saturday night, well past the News-Topic’s deadline. I spent a lot of time worrying how to handle that, what I would be able to get on Sunday’s front page, whether I would need to ask an extra reporter to work on the weekend, whether I’d get in trouble for running folks into overtime pay by coming in on Sunday …
But then Joaquin started moving east. By Saturday afternoon, it seemed apparent the worst had passed.
By this morning, with any luck, the only people still excited about the storm will be on TV.