Last year, I wrote a column confessing my interest in the weather. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a meteorologist and work for the National Weather Service. While I still think it would be interesting, I didn't realize then that it seems the world of weather has become 10 percent forecasting and 90 percent entertainment.
Just turn on the Weather Channel, and chances are, you'll find programming other than a weather forecast. Granted, I do like some of the shows about storm chasers and "How Weather Changed History," but those aren't actually telling me about the current weather. It seems more and more manufactured weather entertainment is replacing the actual forecast.
When the forecast is actually aired, it's pretty much the same thing repeated in 20-minute cycles. That's not very riveting television. If it only takes 15 to 20 minutes to get a detailed forecast to your liking, you'll probably be quick to change the channel. No television station wants you to switch them off. So they need to keep viewers interested by presenting something else "weather related." Calm weather is boring.
Of course, when there is a major weather event, like a severe weather outbreak, a hurricane or a snowstorm, then we're bombarded with live forecasting and storm tracking. Weather catastrophes - now those are exciting! "Sure glad we're not in the path of that storm, but look how it's tearing apart this little town," or "Thank goodness we don't have two feet of snow to shovel!" Who needs a pre-recorded program when the live stuff is way more interesting?
Not only the Weather Channel but also the rest of the national and local media know this, so they proceed to blow up the information prior to impending severe weather, all so more people will tune in to watch events unfold. It's like an unscripted reality TV show.
Don't believe me? All the national media needs to do is tack some version of the word "apocalypse" to a weather event (i.e. "snowpocalypse") or give it some kind of scary name (i.e. "Super Storm Sandy" or "Frankenstorm") to whip the general public into a widespread panic. And I realize the "Polar Vortex" is a real thing, but the weather folks are drudging up that term now to scare all of us, like some gigantic vortex of cold air is going to swoop in and suck all of us up. Anyway, when you assign a name to a storm, that means business, and people will want to find out where it goes and what it does.
And we all know panic leads to a rush at the grocery store. Someday, I wouldn't be surprised if we would start selling the advertising rights to weather events - "This severe weather outbreak brought to you by Walmart. Find all your clean up supplies in our new garden center!" Sound far-fetched? I'm already somewhat convinced that national grocery food chains (and local ones as well) somehow contribute to the frenzy to drum up extra business.
Why is it that everyone feels the need to rush out to the store for bread, milk and toilet paper when the forecast calls for a few inches of snow? I have a friend on Facebook who, every time snow is in the forecast, simply posts a photo of toilet paper, bread, milk and eggs. He doesn't even say a word about the photo - he just puts it up when the media is trying to work us up over a little bit of snow.
I remember once mistakenly stopping at the store for some things the day before we were forecast to get several inches of snow. I was waiting in one of the long lines with my items when a man walked past (I'm not trying to stereotype here, but let's just say he was a "country-fied" fellow) and started laughing at all the people waiting in line buying the snowstorm essentials. About two minutes later, he returned to the front of the store to check out his items - a 25-pound bag of dog food and a 12-pack of beer. I wish I was making this up.
Really though, does anyone remember the last time we were snowed in long enough to run out of food or toilet paper? I mean, even with the Blizzard of '93 we were able to get out after a day or two. Sure conditions weren't great, but you could certainly get around. Big snowstorms here are rare. We don't even get that much in the way of lake effect snow. My sister is now a resident of East Lansing, Mich., and last weekend, they had a snowstorm. I texted her to see how she was doing, and she responded, "We are out and about. Things don't shut down here for six inches of snow."
On the other hand, maybe it's a good idea to scare people into the notion that they shouldn't be out driving on icy roads. Many people go way too fast and tailgate, and I like to stay off the roads not because I'm afraid of driving, but because I don't trust the way others drive. Plus, many of those driving SUVs have the mistaken belief they are driving a tank and don't drive with the caution they should. Sometimes in really bad weather, I see more SUVs pulled off to the side of the road than regular cars. My little Honda Civic was a gem in snow.
We're only a few weeks into winter. January and February are typically the dreariest months. We've got a long way to go until we thaw out for good, so in the meantime, can we please try to keep the hysteria to a minimum? Or at the very least, stock up on supplies you know you use a lot. Toilet paper doesn't expire. Stock up! If you eat a lot of bread, buy several packages and freeze what you don't use right away. And as for milk, buy the organic kind - or just forget about dairy milk and choose a nut milk - because these have much later expiration dates.
When the next "Snowmageddon" storm rolls around, you'll be all set with supplies. Unless, of course, you're out of dog food.