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Meteorologists, please stop the fearmongering!

February 1, 2019
Editorial , Lake Placid News

On Wednesday morning, Jan. 30, ever present on the Weather Channel's screen to the right of meteorologist Jim Cantore reporting from Super Bowl headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, were the words "Frozen America: Life-threatening cold grips the U.S."

"It's going to be dangerous out there," fellow meteorologist Stephanie Abrams said, showing the cold air mass over a map of the U.S. with the headline below her, "79% of Americans below freezing this a.m."

What ever happened to the standard advisories, watches and warnings? Those get our attention without sounding like the Apocalypse is coming.

Article Photos

A snowplow makes its way down Main Street, Lake Placid, in November 2014.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

Enough with the doomsday weather forecasts on television. It is winter. It will snow. It will get cold. Yes, we know it can be dangerous in the snow and cold, but the world is not ending.

The way we figure it, we're done with three months of winter in the Adirondacks, and we have three more to go, no matter what the groundhog says on Saturday, Feb. 2. We'll get through it.

Scaring the public has been a business model for television newscasts for decades, and as the Weather Channel has gained in popularity over the years, doomsday weather forecasts have been the norm, and they're getting worse.

"Superstorm Sandy" was the most destructive and deadliest hurricane in the 2012 season in the Atlantic Ocean, but it was a hurricane. There's no scientific term called a "superstorm." That was made up by the media to scare us because it was so big. There is a term called a super typhoon, which is a typhoon having maximum sustained winds of 150 mph or greater, but Sandy was a category 3 storm with its highest winds at 115 mph.

What about Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse and Snowzilla? Or an arctic weather bomb, snow bomb, bombogenesis and bomb cyclone? Those terms make us cringe.

A blizzard, on the other hand, is defined by the National Weather Service as a snowstorm where the following conditions are expected to prevail by three hours or longer: sustained wind or frequent gusts of 35 mph or greater; and considerable falling or blowing snow that reduces visibility frequently to less than a quarter of a mile.

The polar vortex is a real thing, but the media loves to use it because the "x" makes it sound scary. It becomes part of the news cycle when the vortex dips into our neck of the woods, meaning it's going to get really cold.

According to the National Weather Service, the polar vortex is always there; it's a "large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth's poles." It weakens in the summer and strengthens in the winter. Vortex means the air flows counter-clockwise.

We searched the New York State Historic Newspapers website from 1813 until 2007 and found only 13 instances of the term polar vortex used (one was in a crossword puzzle, so we didn't count it). The first was on Jan. 19, 1982 from the Press-Republican in Plattsburgh, reporting on a cold weather forecast from United Press International wire service. Today, the television weather forecasters throw around "polar vortex" as much as they can because it sounds like an invading force about to clobber us.

One trend among the networks is to list the population numbers that will be affected by a weather event. The higher the number - always in the millions - the better for the television station because that's what gets people's attention, meaning more eyeballs to watch their commercials.

Some people are addicted to the fear and need to tune in. Others would rather keep that stress out of their lives and decide to tune out.

Just give us what we need to know to safely get through our day. It's as simple as that.

It's a shame that some television weather forecasters - like some of our leading politicians in America - think that a business model based on fear is appropriate. It's not. It's just sad.



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