Friday, April 9, 2010

New Local Weather Toy - "SEVERE" Doppler???

Chicken Little is alive in Madison, and he’s disguised as “Severe Doppler Radar”. I laughed out loud when I heard this new term Tuesday night on one of the local TV stations. It’s the station that’s always tracking storms. “Severe Doppler”. Of course, there is no such thing; it’s just the latest example of the fear-mongering done by the weather folks.

I’m not picking on Bob Lindmeier. He’s as nice a guy as any of the other local TV weather folks, and each of them is a weather-nanny in their own way. The science involved in their profession seems to have been co-opted by the marketing and consulting crowd, and to play the game, you’ve got to try and scare people.

I have a friend who travels quite a bit in his line of work. He’s on airplanes probably 200 times a year, visiting a huge assortment of American cities. He’s the George Clooney character from the movie “Up In The Air”, except he doesn’t swoop into town to fire people. He’s a former broadcaster, so he watches the local TV news in the cities he’s working in, and he agrees with me that Madison is by far the most weather-nanny-ish city in the nation.

“Severe” Doppler, indeed. Where is Elmer Childress when we need him!!??

At one point, at around 6:57PM Tuesday, Bob had no less than 17 “tornadoes” depicted on his super-duper-weather-map….those little round thingys that spin, which apparently show that there’s potential rotation in the air mass at that point. I say “no less than”, because I paused the TV picture with my DVR, and counted. But some parts of the screen were blocked out by other graphics that were part of the colorful presentation, so I couldn’t be exact.

It’s designed to terrify you, and make you believe that if you don’t have this particular station on, you could die.

For those of you who may be new to the Madison area, let me help you understand the terminology, so you and your family can be safe during the long spring and summer season ahead. There are only two types of weather warning on Madison TV: there’s the “Severe Tornado Warning” and the “Extremely Severe Tornado Warning.”

The first means it’s cloudy, and it might rain. The second means it might storm, with thunder and lightning.

Because I’m an insider, I can tell you about the warning you’ll never see on TV, and that’s the ultra-secret “Bob-Gary-David-Laurie” alert. That’s when all four of the city’s Chief Meteorologists, Bob Lindmeier, Gary Cannalte, David George, and Laurie Mercurio have called their families and told them to take cover. It means the four of them agree that we really could actually have some truly severe weather. The “Bob-Gary-David-Laurie” alert is extremely rare, and you’ll never know about it.

OK, I’m being snotty and sarcastic and snarky here. I’ve met three of these chief meteorologists, and I’ve know Gary Cannalte for 20 years, and worked with him in my local radio days, and he’s as fine a person and friend as you could ever ask for…and there’s nobody I’d rather have “on my side” when we’re in for severe weather.

My gripe with their “product” – all three of them – is that it’s shaped and influenced by marketing and ratings goals, and it’s far more intrusive than I think is necessary. And, in a Cap Times informal survey a year or so ago, most people hold my point of view that it seems the TV stations are just a bit too intense with their marketing of fear. Science has been overshadowed by commerce, and legitimate concern has been trumped by the race to be “THE” weather station. It’s all about image and ratings – under the guise of “keeping your family safe”.

“Severe” Doppler, indeed. The Austrian physicist it’s named for (Christian Doppler) is rolling in his grave.


  1. So.........

    What's the Doppler level for the projected US deficit?

    Or the current-budget deficit in Wisconsin?

    There's not enough red in an HDTV screen to show that Doppler, is there?

    We have a similar problem in Milwaukee, by the way. Here, on Election night, they deleted the results-crawl to highlight a 't-storm warning' in SHEBOYGAN County--on all 4 stations.

    No kidding! It RAINS in spring here?

  2. The problem with this of course is that when there really is something genuinely severe, no one will take it seriously. The old crying wolf too often thing.

  3. My favorite local TV weather moment: during a full-blown tornado alert one night, the female anchor suddenly emits a yelp, general sounds of confusion follow, and then silence. I sit there transfixed, looking at the radar image onscreen and wondering what will happen next. It turns out the tornado they had been following had whizzed by the station window, and they'd all hit the floor. So much for remaining at your post no matter what, although in their defense, there's all that heavy stuff hanging over your head in a TV studio.

    I guess it was the yelp I liked.