Column Date 2005-12-14

Hurricane Watch

Every time there’s a hurricane in Florida, or eight feet of snow suddenly drops out the sky in Colorado, I get the feeling that there’s a secret school someplace that teaches weather people how to perform on TV.

“Category Four hurricane on the way!” shouts the professor at Extreme Weather University. “Let’s get out there!”

And what happens when they get there? They don their heavy weather gear and they stand, hour after hour, in the most photogenic place they can find, with the hurricane blowing small boats and large trees past them.

Every so often, when the wind dies down and we can actually hear their voices, they impart their jewels of journalism; keen observations honed by years of experience:

“It’s really blowing out there, Fred.”

“If you look down at the interstate, there’s hardly a car to be seen.”

“Just a few wind gusts right now, but we’re sure it’ll get worse in a few hours. Now back to you in the studio.”

The studio then cuts to the local hardware store where we see long lines of worried people queued up to buy plywood and flashlights.

(In Colorado, by the way, they always show long lines of people waiting to buy snow shovels. I don’t get it. Don’t people in Colorado already own snow shovels from the big storms last year? Or do they buy cheap shovels that wear out after one winter? Or did all those frantic people just move to Colorado from a warmer state and never figured it would snow?)

The highlight of the weather report, the moment the audience has all been waiting for, is when these damp and soggy reporters nearly get blown down the street, or have to hang on to the nearest telephone pole for dear life.

Honestly now: what do you call someone who goes out onto the beach when a 145-mile-an-hour hurricane is roaring up the coast? Unbelievably brave? Completely nuts? Or just a participant in the TV reality show to end all reality shows?

I hope you realize that the ultimate weather show is yet to come:

Reporter: “Here on the big island of Hawaii, there have been ominous rumblings from almost every volcano in the region for the last 24 hours. And we’re here, at the very heart of it, to get the story.”

“Right now, I’m standing inside the Halemaumau Fire Pit of the Kilauea volcano. As you can see, there is lava starting to flow behind me, and poisonous gases are being released as we speak.”

“Look at this: the hot lava, which can reach a temperature of 4,000 degrees Farenheit, is starting to pool around my shoes and actually singe the leather!”

“The lava is moving up to my ankles now...but wait -- our producers tell me we have to go over to Robin, who is standing on the edge of the San Andreas fault with a fast-breaking earthquake story in California.”

“Over to you, Robin. Robin? Come in, Robin? Are you there?”

©2004 Peter Tannen