Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The National Weather Service Has Issued...

The only time you hear those words is if there is a weather related problem. I have been hearing those words for my whole life. How many things can you say are exactly the same as when you were growing up? Not many. But those six words have never changed.

What has changed is the coverage of the storms.

When I was a wee lad they would cut in on the program with the long tone, and then cut to what looked like a card someone was holding up in front of the camera, with the appropriate object drawn on it; a cloud with a lightning bolt shooting out of it, or the drawing of a tornado. Or maybe they had something like a slide projector type machine and the one or two guys that were manning the studio that night just grabbed the appropriate slide and put it in. Hmmm...Thunderstorm Warning, no...Blizzard, no...Ah yea, here it is...Tornado Warning. There used to be a weather caster named Bob Kevern in Rockford. I never saw the guy during a bad storm, just later that night during the news or the NEXT DAY telling us all about the severe weather.

So we would get the tone, the watch or warning, and "back to our regularly scheduled programming". Another six words that have not changed in my lifetime.

Of course these warnings were totally ignored. We didn't have doppler radar, or even ANY radar at that time, so how would you know if a storm was coming? And if you had never been in a tornado, why would you care? For gods sake, Happy Days is on and the Fonz is ready to hand ChaChi his lunch - get that crap off the screen!

Nobody ran for cover, hid in their closets or did anything except pray for that annoying junk to go away.

Lets contrast this to last nights coverage by our fine local media here in Madison, WI during the Tornado Warnings. In this age, the programming is cut off altogether. The weathermen are called into the office and it becomes constant weather alert TV. I can see good old Bob Kevern back in the day sitting in his easy chair watching his channel. I imagine what would happen if they called him in to work the weather on off hours.

"Hey Bob, we need you in here, we have some severe weather on the way."

"Are you nuts! It is noon - screw that, just put up the slides, like there is anything I can add that will make a difference. I will be in for the 5pm as usual."

So the storms rolled in last night and we were now on all weather all the time on the local stations. I decided to listen for a while. I flipped around a lot. We have three major network stations here in Madison, and looks like they pretty much spoonfed the exact same information. I mean exactly the same information. I think there must be some deal between the cops and the media to all be on the same page during these situations.

All of the stations were reading off of the same exact word for word releases that the cops or somebody was giving them. "At 7:06 a trained spotter sighted a tornado on the ground near Poynette, Wisconsin, traveling southeast at 15 miles per hour". That last quote is pretty much right on the money as to what was read by all three stations at one point or another. But lets take a look at it for just a second.

First, what training do you need to realize that there is a tornado on the ground? If I saw one, I would just say "holy shit! tornado!". No training needed for that. I can see maybe training is needed to spot a wall cloud or funnel cloud, but a tornado? Please. And how do they know it is going 15 miles per hour? This is important because all of the stations have this fancy software on their super dopplers now where all they do is plug in the spot where the tornado was sighted, enter the direction and speed and it gives you the exact time to the minute where the tornado will be. Of course this is bullshit too because tornados don't stay on the ground for miles and miles (only record breaking ones anyway). Silly me and my thinking brain.

The weather casters all said not to try to outrun a tornado in your car. I have never understood this. If there is a tornado in my rearview mirror I am flooring it. Especially if the stupid thing is only going 15 miles per hour! I can outrun that thing on my bike for gods sake, much less in a car.

All three stations also urged the populus to not go outside and take pictures of the storms. This was very interesting because not two minutes later, they were showing footage that private parties had shot - where? Outside their freaking houses. So they don't want you to do this, but if you do, your name will get on TV and the stations will show your shots on the air. Duh.

The reality of the whole thing is that by the time they tell you there is a tornado on the ground, if you are anywhere near it you are either dead or preparing to have your estate settled very soon if you are in the path. I suppose you have a better chance in your basement.


Kathy K said...

A friend of mine DID outrun a tornado on a bicycle once. (He angled away from the direction it was headed.)

Dan from Madison said...

That is crazy...and they don't want me to try to outrun one in a car? Feh.

Firehand said...

Ah yes. "DON'T get in the girders under a bridge; DO lay in a drainage ditch where the flood from the rain may drown you". "DON'T try to outrun it; never mind our spotters on video screaming "FASTER!FASTER!!"

Jonathan said...

Hysteria sells advertising.