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Believe Your Senses, Not TV Weather Hype

Wed, 01/10/2024 - 17:12


This past Saturday morning, the line to check out at an UpIsland Trader Joe’s went around the store. The reason, a checkout helper told a friend of The Star, was the dire winter weather warnings playing out nonstop on cable television. Local news had been full of it for more than a day at that point, suggesting major snowfall. These days, the odds are good that southern New York State and Long Island will have rain but not snow, yet many people tend to believe the personable weatherpeople on their screens and not their own senses.

As of Saturday, more than 650 days had come and gone since the last snow in Central Park of an inch or more. What is truly unfortunate is that so many people trust the Weather Channel more than they do their own observations. The last 12 months were the hottest recorded in more than 150 years; 2024 is expected to be worse. Long Island does not seem to get real winters anymore. Folks selling used snow blowers find few takers.

Weather (the short term) is big business: A 2022 survey of television viewers found that 77 percent of Americans liked getting their weather from local TV channels — this included respondents who normally used smartphone weather apps. Climate coverage (the long term) is hard to get worked up about — there really isn’t any reason to rush out to panic-buy groceries to prepare for a relentless upward trend in temperature.

It would be better for us all if the TV and online weather offerings gave equal time to news, like the fact that 2023 was the hottest year worldwide in more than 150 years. The increase was literally off the chart during the second half of the year jumping 1.78 degrees Celsius over a pre-industrial baseline. Some climate scientists say there is evidence that last year might have been among the warmest in the past 100,000 years. Next year is likely to be hotter still, or at minimum, in the top three.

In general, a majority of Americans say they favor measures to fight climate change and that government and business are doing too little to reduce its effects. However, most of the surveyed population still favor using a mix of energy sources, including pollution-causing coal, oil, and natural gas. We also remain closely divided about phasing out gas-powered cars in favor of greener electric vehicles. On a brighter note, a Pew Research Center study said that younger Americans tend to be more action-oriented on the issue of climate. Millennials and adults in Generation Z are more aware of climate change than their older counterparts and doing more to get involved in turning it around. Driving this, Pew found, was a significantly higher level of anxiety about the future, especially among people born after 1996. But the urgency has yet to penetrate too many of us.

According to news reports, climate change made life nearly unbearable in parts of Iran, China, Greece, Spain, Texas, and the American South in 2023. In addition, Canada had its most destructive wildfire season by far, during which more than 45 million acres burned. “Less sea ice formed around the coasts of Antarctica, in both summer and winter, than ever measured,” The New York Times reported. Locally, invasive species, like a beetle susceptible to frigid winters now killing trees, are running rampant. Sea level rise means that the more and bigger storms whipped up on a warmer ocean are all the more damaging. But that is just context. The need to win viewers and keep them on a platform compels news-show meteorologists and app producers to train their focus elsewhere.

Chasing and holding onto an easily distracted audience makes them think they must hype all storms, not just the ones that the National Weather Service classifies as “severe.” And so the TV personalities carry on, knowing that potentially disruptive weather in the short-term forecast gets eyeballs. And, the worse the prediction, the better it is for ratings. The big story — the rapidly overheating planet Earth — is scarcely addressed in the media that most Americans prefer. It needs to be. Soon.

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