Monday, February 11, 2013


I thought it rather quaint that the National Weather Service had decided to start naming snowstorms as they do hurricanes. Especially when last week's blizzard was called Nemo, who, of course, is everyone's favorite CGI clownfish. Suddenly TV reporters, especially those on NBC, started saying "Nemo" as if being paid to.

That wasn't so far off the mark. By the weekend, it became known that winter storm-naming was created not by government meteorologists but the hype-happy folks at the Weather Channel... which is owned by NBC. So the reporters from other networks breathlessly keeping track of Nemo were unwittingly promoting a rival. This is genius marketing on the WC's part, far better than its real job, which is predicting the weather. 

If you saw any of the WC in the run-up to the blizzard, you probably remember its crack weather guy Jim Cantore, in his official network down hoodie, standing on the walkway over the Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in Boston, swinging a yardstick like a nine-iron. Cantore used this prop because, as he kept reminding us, twenty-four hours later the snow would be at least three-feet deep right where he was standing -- perhaps over a foot more than the 1978 record-setter of 27-inches.
"Trust me -- I've got a yardstick."
When all was said and done, Cantore had overshot the mark by over a foot. (Having lived in Boston in '78, I was glad I could still boast of having lived through its biggest blizzard.) OK, so predicting weather isn't always perfect. The problem with Cantore was that he presented his forecast as he always does during storms: as fact before it happened. No, he yelled it, as all the weather people do when a storm is coming, because it sounds more dramatic. But at least the Accuweather guys on WABC-TV yelled "18 to 24" inches for Boston rather than "36 to possibly 40" inches. They were also called it correctly for New York, while Cantore's crew, again, was about a foot off. It's as if ESPN regularly gave wrong scores but still promoted itself as the go-to place for sports. 

I believe it was Jim Cantore who, several years back, stood in the middle of Times Square as a monster snowstorm was allegedly approaching. We got the same "24 hours from now" shtick then, too. And 24 hours later he was still standing there, about an inch of snow on the ground, getting hooted down by New Yorkers who had seen him give his apocalypse now forecast with the conviction of God.

So what is the Weather Channel good for? Great storm footage. Graphics that look cool in HD. Pretty music during the local, incorrect, forecast. That's about it. And yet like a hop-head zoning out in an opium den, I park myself in front of Jim Cantore & friends whenever a snowstorm or hurricane is said it be making its way to the Upper East Side. Not because I'm going to get the right information, but the information I want to hear: snowier, windier, bigger than the other guys' forecast.

That's why Dick Morris lost his job on Fox News after (deliberately?) botching the 2012 presidential election predictions. Yet you can bet that come next storm, however, Jim Cantore and his trusty yardstick will be on their way to the next photo-op, demanding at the top of his lungs to listen to him because he's wearing a hoodie that says "Weather Channel" while your local forecaster doesn't.

All photos of Carl Schurz Park on NYC's Upper East Side were taken by my talented wife.

No comments: