22 Dec

Snowy with a Chance of Winter

“TV and snow, a silly mix” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (December 22, 2003).

Welcome, winter. You gave us a glimpse of your snowy self in weeks past, but now you’re back, officially, till March. Sadly, to many, your arrival means the wintry pains of icy roads, sneezing coworkers and closed schools. Too few people today find pleasure in the onslaught of snow, which is a shame.

Beside myself, there are at least a few other eccentric cold misers hiding out in the region – namely, our umbrella-toting friends in television news. For them, the advent of winter is the starting line in the latest ratings race, their chance to show off the latest gadgetry. They love winter. And ironically, they win those ratings by convincing us that we hate it.

After a taste of this heavy artillery, I have to wonder: How did Lewis and Clark manage their continental journey without Live Doppler 10,000? Would StormTracker 6 have saved the doomed settlers of Roanoke Island when a devastating winter led to “The Lost Colony?” Would the Donner Party have resorted to cannibalism had EarthWatch warned against its trek? Finally, would we have survived the recent snowfalls – and those to come – if our local meteorologists were on strike?

I answer that last hypothetical with an emphatic yes!

We’ve so embraced technology that we sometimes think we need to rely on it for every action we take. Granted, it is very good that we can track hurricanes and prepare the affected communities for possible evacuation. And yes, it is nice to know that sunshine will grace our daughter’s wedding day. But the naked truth is that the weather is going to do what it pleases, and there isn’t much we can do about it.

As we enter winter, I know that television news will do its best to report on what is painstakingly obvious to the naked eye: snow. With its arrival, it’s as if real news goes on a leave of absence.

A snowflake falls in an easterly motion in South Dakota and the MegaDoppler is on it, tracking its eventual path to Western Pennsylvania, whereupon panic sets in. We watch as Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz follows the storm’s easterly path on the satellite images behind him. We see Dave Roberts outside the studio with his leather gloves and the wind buffeting his salt-and-pepper hair. The excitement builds. And then, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the storm arrives, and bundled-up field reporters scurry off to broadcast road conditions from town to town.

“Snowing here, Marc.”

“Seems to be coming down harder now, Larry.”

“Roads are pretty icy, Monica.”

“Sure is cold out here. Back to you, Rob.”

And Cathy Gandolfo’s obligatory report from South Jersey: “Wind is really picking up here, Dave. So are the waves.”

Do these these hour-after-hour reports really enlighten? Or do they just fill time?

Reporter: “Good evening, sir. How are you braving the commute this evening?”

Sir: “I live five blocks from work. I walk.”

Reporter: “And what have you done to prepare for the blustery journey?”

Sir: “Galoshes.”

Producers, can’t you let Vernon Odom, Michele McCormack and the rest go home to enjoy the snow with their families? They’re not telling us anything we can’t figure out by looking out the window or debriefing the kids as they come in the house.

“Snowing here, Mom.”

“Sure is cold out there, Dad.”

Yet the reports continue: The “Kids having fun sledding” segment. The “Look, there’s a huge pile of PennDot salt behind me” report. The “Check on your older neighbors” report. The heart-rending “Code Blue and the homeless” report.

How many hours of these nonsensical segments are necessary? And why the sudden drought in news? Do wars, political mischief and crime take the winter off? I don’t think so, yet these snow reports are broadcast again and again, right down to the perennial run on milk, salt and shovels (how did they dig out the last time?) and the health segment on shoveling and back overexertion.

It’s enough to make us all believe that each snowfall is another Y2K. We – and our computers – lived through the transition from 1999 to 2000. And we – with or without our computers – will live through the snow.

Sorry, Cecily Tynan, as much as I appreciate the extra air time you get during storms, you won’t find me glued to the TV. I’ll be out on my front lawn, making a snow angel. Just don’t send a roving reporter my way for another meaningless snow report because I’ll have a snowball or two waiting.