So, The World According to PW is my soapbox rants. I’ll try to stay on point, try to be relevant, but in the end, it’s about whatever’s bugging me in a given week. I was going to go on about voting today, about certain political views I have, but I’l save that for later now, because something else struck my nerve today.
I popped onto weather.com before leaving work, to check what the overnight low would be, and see what the weekend forecast was for Minneapolis, as I plan to be out and about some this weekend. I was greeted by this image:
And this set me off. Well, it prompted this post. Because, if you haven’t noticed, over the past… oh, three or so years, it seems like, every minor weather fluctuation is AN EMERGENCY. It’s not so much the blatant headline grabs, like the “snowpocalypses” of my subject line, but the minor language use of sites like weather.com.
Look at the language in play here – the polar air invasion. That’s aggressive language, meant to invoke fear and trepidation. The polar air is invading. It’s hostile! It’s coming for your children! But… not really. The polar air in question is simply being pushed by a typhoon in the Pacific (all typhoons are in the Pacific, by the way). It’s a fairly normal weather event, although the typhoon in question – Nuri – is definitely a big one. But still, it’s just a typhoon rolling towards Alaska, which is in turn giving that north Canadian air a firm kick southward. It’s basic cause-and-effect.
What it is not, however, is some sort of arctic invasion. In fact, the only thing that this is going to result in is some November snow (which is a normal thing) and some cold temps – highs in the 20s. None of which are particularly abnormal for Minnesota in November. Sure, they’re a slap in the face right now, since we’re sitting happy in the 40s and low 50s, but we’ve had some luck with a pretty mild fall this year.
This leads me to my greater observation about weather reporting. Climate change aside, and I can get into that another time, the way weather is reported has changed. In this media-driven society we live in now, soundbytes and headlines get hits and ratings; responsible estimates do not. I’ve been aware of this trend especially over the last three years, when I started bicycling to work, and have noticed the language used for weather reporting growing more and more aggressive and threatening. There’s no such thing as a simple storm anymore; everything is advertised as some kind of potential catastrophe. Watch the national weather forecasts this winter, especially, and see what I mean. Any storm that has the potential to drop 3″ or more of snow will be heralded as some kind of seasonal doom.
I suppose all we can do, then, as consumers of media, is choose responsible avenues to get our news from. In Minnesota, we have the benefit of Paul Douglas, who does excellent work for the Star-Tribune, tempering national or regional forecasts with his own scientific background and his long-term anecdotal knowledge from living in the region for decades. It’s refreshing to see someone take a look at the big forecasts and spin them more responsibly. Sometimes it’s sobering, but it’s almost always good reading, and reasonably accurate. When the nation is bracing for the next Snowpocalypse, I’m glad I can read someone who’ll look at the same stuff and say, “Yeah, maybe, but probably not. Relax.” Weather can be a terrifying thing, no doubt – the raw power of nature is absolutely sublime… but we shouldn’t be manipulated by irresponsible reporting to fear it. So sit back, when the snow comes. Get a hot cup of tea or coffee, or warm up some cider or brandy. Sit down and watch it fall, and enjoy whatever aspects of winter you do. Sit on a balcony and listen to the crisp crunching of it falling. But enjoy it. Because we can’t control it, and while I advocate weather awareness, I don’t think we should be worried about any polar invasions.