Full disclosure: Just a reminder that I work for KIRO TV.
If you’re in Seattle tonight, you may well be wondering, Where the hell is my snow? That’s fair. Forecasts called for quite a lot to accumulate, and it did, just not in Seattle proper.
This happens occasionally in Western Washington — I won’t get into the intricacies of how hard it is to forecast weather in our area, and this seattlepi.com post has already done it pretty well — and when it does, some people get angry.
This is a delicate subject, and I want to be clear from the outset that I’m looking to stoke a debate more than make definitive, voice-of-god declarations.
But: Does anyone in their right mind really think that weather forecasts are definitive?
Journalists who are meteorologists have an insanely difficult job because, unlike any other beat in the news business, a good portion of their job involves reporting on the future. They forecast weather — that is, they analyze data, and convey their analyses to the public for general FYI consumption.
There are two problems TV meteorologists run into that are likely at the root of people’s angry responses when the weather doesn’t behave as anticipated: (1) A weather forecast is infinitely complex, and a TV broadcast offers only a small window in which to simplify the data; and (2) TV forecasters speak in definitive terms (e.g. “You’re going to wake up to a few inches of snow.”)
Point No. 2 is the bigger problem.
When the average TV viewer hears “it will snow tomorrow,” he probably just takes it at face value: It. Will. Snow. That’s ridiculous, though, because no one can guarantee that anything will happen tomorrow, or even five seconds from now.
This is where audience responsibility comes into play.
Obviously no one can know for sure that anything will happen, so when a TV viewer hears “it will snow,” he has to take into consideration all the qualifiers that come with that statement, but which would be too tedious to actually mention out loud. “It will snow tomorrow”: If what’s likely now remains likely tomorrow; if new environmental factors don’t come into play; if the unexpected does not occur. (I told someone earlier today (paraphrasing): We forecast what’s likely to happen. That does not preclude the unlikely from occurring.) It is not unlike my making a definitive statement four paragraphs ago: “There are two problems TV meteorologists run into….” The unspoken qualifier there is “in my opinion,” but it’s inherent and thus unnecessary, because this is my blog, and besides that, logic prohibits anyone from definitively declaring that all TV meteorologists only have two problems.
I’m curious to hear what you think: Should TV weatherpeople be expected to qualify every statement they make with “ifs,” or does the audience bear the responsibility to assume what’s unspoken?
Please drop a comment or two.