Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Winter Weather Forecasts Are Hardly “Breaking News”

Weather forecasts branded “breaking news” on Sunday and Monday weren’t alarming. They were barely news. They basically noted: Beginning Tuesday, the Midwest and Northeast will be seeing what some are calling “Polar Vortex 2:” Single-digit and below zero temperatures will be hitting parts of those regions throughout the week. That could just be the beginning; next weekend will bring a second surge of arctic air.
Hell didn't freeze over with the year's first
polar vortex, but Niagara Falls did.
It was even less startling when it was indicated that it wouldn’t be as severe as the early January sub-zero wallop or be accompanied by the brutal frigid winds with and without wind chills factored in experienced by almost half the country a few weeks ago.
To recap: It’s mid-January and very cold weather is on its way. What an eye-opener!
Northeast and Midwest residents, who aren’t snowbirds, rearranged their closets more than a month ago with typical winter weather apparel at the ready in what is likely an annual ritual.
But then again, what’s presented as breaking news in this day and age is sometimes neither shocking nor even that big of a deal. More often than not it’s labeled “breaking” to give media outlets something fresh to report in the repetitive 24/7 news cycle that continually reports the same stories to fill air time.
When newly swore in New York Mayor Bill De Blasio recently got caught eating pizza with a knife and fork in Brooklyn, local news outlets broke the “news” as if he committed a minor misdemeanor. Untraditional, yes, but not especially newsworthy.
It did, nonetheless, bring to mind for “Seinfeld” fans “The Pledge” episode when Elaine sees her boss eat a Snickers bar with a knife and fork that sparks a citywide outbreak of the fussy trend.

But, I digress. Last weekend, then on Monday, except for news about Super Bowl XLVIII opponents, with no new political crises, Chris Christie confessions or the latest Miley Cyrus antics, the weather upstaged all that with details that the Northeast and Midwest will experience single-digit temperatures on Tuesday, and possibly again later in the week (then came the disclaimer that should have exonerated this rush to report), though it will not be as cold as the previous polar vortex earlier this month.

Weather changes daily so it should rarely, if ever, come as “breaking news.” That’s like reporting the sun will come out tomorrow (bet your bottom dollar) or modifying phases of the moon.
We’re entering the second month of winter in these parts, so we kinda know what to expect. Therefore, forecasts of cold weather are not terribly alarming. It’s good to know what’s coming so we can prepare, but even after a few bouts of unseasonable weather in the last few winters, snow and cold is not surprising.
More significantly, what’s with this “polar vortex” condition? Did weather reporters really need a new term to forecast frigid temperatures?
Without getting too meteorological, polar vortex is a nasty winter weather pattern, sort of an arctic cyclone. Not as ferocious as Hurricane Sandy, but a blast of extremely frigid air that originates in the Arctic Circle. Instead of the quasi-scientific phrase “polar vortex,” why not call it what it is: intense arctic air moving south.
The term “polar vortex” seems to have become part of weather forecasting jargon. Maybe I missed it in previous winters, but I don’t recall hearing those words used to describe wintry weather. According to one weather site, it is uncommon for such cold air to cover such a large part of the country and occurs once a decade or longer.
For whatever reason, meteorologists have embraced it and thrust the words into the cultural dialog, even causing a minor storm, if you will. Two weeks ago, as more than 150 Americans experienced body-numbing cold and intolerable winds, right wing motor mouth Rush Limbaugh claimed the term “polar vortex” was a leftist agenda conspiracy to promote global warming. Every time the guy opens his mouth, he promotes idiocy.
Maybe he should Google it to learn that the weather phenomenon was first described in 1853 and discovered a century later, decades before global warming became an international debate.
The public welcomes predictions of weather conditions for which we sometimes need to prepare, but for local, national and 24/7 media should not hype those forecasts as if a new Ice Age was imminent. 
I prefer accurate, well-timed weather reports, not dire predictions that occasionally make Chicken Little’s sky is falling warning seem grossly understated.