Keep weather reports realistic

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This past week, the Pacific Northwest has been preparing for what local news outlets claimed to be one of the five worst storms in local history. All of that preparation, however, didn’t amount to much as the storm didn’t turn out to be more than “another blustery fall night,” according to the Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times, King 5 News and many others stated that they were glad that they had over-hyped the storm because this meant that more people were safe. The problem with this is that people would still be safe if the storm had simply been predicted correctly. Because of the over-exaggeration, events were unnecessarily cancelled on Friday and Saturday, including Bellevue College’s Homecoming Week festival, and people holed up in their houses, flinching every time the lights flickered.

Of course, the power did go out in some regions of Washington. King 5 News stated that over 20,000 Washington homes lost their power, but the Puget Sound Energy map states that only 738 customers did not have power on Sunday which means that this storm affected less people for a shorter period of time than a similar storm last fall that wasn’t televised at all. That storm wiped out the power of more than 24,000 homes and the power didn’t some back until about a week later for most people. I remember that because my house lost power as well. I would drive the full 45 minutes to school every day that week listening to NPR on the radio just to know what was going on because I had to learn about the storm after it hit. It seems strange that the recent storm was extensively reported on rather than some of the more devastating ones in the past.

Many news outlets that reported on the storm posted articles on their websites and on Facebook on Sunday to deal with people taking to social media and blaming them for their coverage of the storm. According to King 5 News, this whole situation isn’t a bad one because people were prepared. Additionally, according to meteorologist Rich Marriott, it would have been irresponsible to ignore “the scientific stuff we had going into it.” It is obvious that science should not be ignored, but the fact that science was so wrong in this case makes every local news outlet that reported on the storm look bad. Cliff Mass, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington, stated in his blog that his profession “has to stop providing the worst case or most probable weather evolution, but provide society with full probabilistic guidance.”

“Local meteorologists warned of the worst case situation, but failed to communicate the uncertainty of the prediction.” said Mass, and added that even though scientists did present flawed data, the media was also at fault. “The media, such as the Seattle Times and several TV stations, were happy to hype up the storm because of all the interest in such events,” he said. Because people were interested about the storm, the media decided to cover more of it.

I agree with Mass. Meteorologists need to give people guidance on the many things that could happen rather than scare them with talk of a huge storm that is definitely approaching and TV stations need to keep reports of the weather realistic. As many people whose picnic plans have been foiled by unexpected rain learn, weather isn’t the most predictable aspect of nature.