MAD DOG: Talking About the Weather
Being a TV weatherperson has got to be the best job in the world. Sure, being an ice cream taster at Ben and Jerry's, the head of human resources for the Acme Porn Flick Company, or Leonardo DiCaprio are also good career choices, but they don't afford you the luxury of screwing up 365 nights in a row while not only keeping your job, but also getting a raise, which means you can buy all the tax-deductible silly ties and hairspray you want. And as a weatherperson you'll want plenty.Think about it, if doctors, airline pilots, and dry cleaners had the same success rate as TV weatherpeople there would be a major uprising. Well, except maybe from morticians, Amtrak, and clothing manufacturers. But for some reason weather forecasters are exempt from the normal guidelines of job performance. Maybe, as in kindergarten, "plays well with others", "shares", and "goes to the bathroom by himself" really are the important personal attributes.I understand that weather forecasting (more correctly known as meteorology, from the Greek for "meatier paycheck") isn't an exact science, but it's not right that my horoscope is more accurate than the 3-day forecast. We can put a man on the moon, create computers that do thousands of calculations a second by manipulating electrons, and put chocolate stuff inside a lollypop without it leaking out, yet we can't say with anything better than a 25 percent probability whether it will rain six hours from now. This just isn't right.It's not as if TV weatherpeople are stupid. Quite the contrary. Remember, they're the ones with the cushy job, not you and me. Most of them went to college to study meteorology, which means they spent five or six years taking courses like Silly Weather System Names 201, Inane Banter 405, and Advanced Clowning Techniques.See, they figure that if they're entertaining enough it will take our minds off the rain that's about to wash away our house and car when just a few hours ago they said it would be sunny and warm for the rest of the week. They joke around, draw cute pictures on their weather maps, and generally act as if this is a stepping stone to getting a late night talk show. After all, it worked for David Letterman.In amongst all this they manage to show off some of the latest technology -- satellite photos, Doppler radar, computer imaging, and those weather maps that zoom around like bad video games, making you glad you copped those airsickness bags from the plane even though you thought they were doggie bags. If Marshall McLuhan was right, and the medium is indeed the message, then it's a safe bet we have a 50 percent chance of rain and 100 percent chance of bad jokes, goofy banter, and wrong forecasts tonight.For all their weather charts, reporting stations (that's right, get those elementary school kids to do your work for you!), barometers, hygrometers, anemometers, and divination of chicken entrails, they still use professional help, though maybe not the kind we think they should be getting. Every TV station subscribes to several weather forecasting services, like the National Weather Service, AccuWeather, and Madame Theresa's Psychic Hotline and Spanish Delicatessen. The weatherperson's job, actually, is to cull through these and, using some of that college education, choose which forecast they think will be right. So it turns out that not only is their forecast usually wrong, so is their choice of which forecasting service to believe. Remind me not to listen to their hot stock tips.Choosing the forecast isn't the only part of their job that's difficult. Night after night they have to try to find something new and fresh to say. Face it, there are a limited number of weather conditions (sun, clouds, rain, snow, sleet, hail, wind) and between a zero and 100 percent chance of each. Since we've long heard all the possible permutations, they're stuck trying their damnedest to get excited about things like a heat wave in August and a cold snap in January. Excuse me, but isn't that what happens in August and January?Meteorology is a science, and as with all sciences, it's can be very technical. So another part of the weatherperson's job is to translate that jargon into language we all understand. Face it, we don't care about isobars and inverted fronts, we want to know if we need to carry an umbrella and wear a jacket. But somewhere along the line weatherpeople were told that their viewers have the IQ of a remote control with a dead battery, which is why they like making up new weather words (like thunderboomers), create their own catchphrases (Frank's Frigid Front Flows Freely), and generally act like Willard Scott. That wouldn't be so bad except they're acting like him during his pre-weatherman days as Bozo the Clown.They could take a tip from the English, where the daily weather predictions in the newspaper include such true-life phrases as "bright start, then outbreaks of rain" and "freshening southeast winds." Don't these sound infinitely more refined? Though to be honest, the writer could have been wearing a red rubber nose while he typed them for all I know. Maybe we should quit griping about weatherpeople -- or I should anyway -- and just learn from them. "There's a 50 percent chance of getting that hamburger the way you want it," would really take the pressure off fast food workers. And personally, being able to say "Doppler radar indicates this article will be partly funny with a chance of light drivel followed by periods of clearing and gusts of hot blustery air" would really get me off the hook. Now if I can only find a way to make the silly ties and hair spray tax deductible.