OpEd Columns

On local TV newscasts, the Weather Team reigns (Indianapolis Star 03/05/05)

Accurate. Dependable. Guaranteed.
Who do I know that promotes themselves as “accurate, dependable, and guaranteed? Hmmm. The garbage collector? .No. The newspaper delivery boy ? No. My wife’s obstetrician? No… but I sure hope he is.
The only thing I’ve witnessed that’s been called “accurate, dependable, and guaranteed” is my local TV weather forecast. Somehow, in the superficial fantasyland of TV news, predicting Mother Nature has become “accurate, dependable, and guaranteed.”
P.T. Barnum, famous circus promoter and racist exploiter of the disfigured, once said it best. “There’s a sucker born every minute.” If Barnum were alive today, he’d be a top rated TV weatherman.
According to Graeme Newell,, founder of the TV consulting group 602 Communications and well-known news marketing guru, when it comes to gaining in the ratings game, “By far, weather is the most important component of any newscast.”
So pump up the weather promos.
The Storm Team. The Weather Authority. The Weather Lab. Wake Up Weather. First Full Forecast. Bus Stop Weather. Double Doppler. Doppler Max
What news consultant conjures up these cheesy marketing gimmicks? And why is he still employed?
The Network of Weather Spotters. Is there any legitimate reason for listing the predicted high temperature in ten towns within a 20 mile radius? No, other than the illusion that the Storm Team tracks weather in your little township. Plus, isn’t it fun to hear your suburb mentioned on the 6:00 news?
The Seal of Approval from the National Weather Service. Given the accuracy of local weather forecasts, the NWS must be as judicious with their gold seals as most kindergarten teachers.
“Still to come, the Seven Day Futurecast”…which is as statistically accurate as the NCAA brackets I fill out for March Madness. When has the seventh day of any seven day forecast ever been accurate?
“Will the weekend bring us dry weather or will it be another washout? I’ll tell you coming up in weather. “
How ‘bout you tell me now?
The promos for local weather forecasts make otherwise affable meteorologists look like low rent Donald Trump impersonators. Is there really much difference in listening to your weatherman spout out another five-day futurecast and listening to Trump tell us his golf courses and penthouses are the most spectacular in the world?
Thanks to the phony promotion that dominates today’s local newscasts, the role of weatherman is more acting gig than scientific postulation. More palm reader less lab coat researcher.
Should the weather front men and women be held accountable for their daily guesses at temperature and precipitation? No. Especially since many of them are simply reading someone else’s prediction and passing it off as their own. Should they be humble and admit when their forecast is wrong instead of bragging of their so-called accuracy? Yes.
“Here’s Dan with today’s weather. Thanks Jan. First, I’d like to apologize for leading many families astray last weekend. I’m sorry you scheduled the time of your picnics and ball games around my seven-day predictions, only to have them washed out when my sunny forecast was woefully wrong. Currently I’m 8-for-18 this month in hitting the weather on the head. I’ll try better next week.”
Honestly, I feel sorry for these good-natured men and women who have to go in front of the camera each day and read teleprompters stuffed with more sales pitches than serious meteorology.
They gush about laughable toys like the sky-view camera. The biggest marketing gimmick invented since the two-headed anchorman. A series of low-res video cameras mounted atop various fixtures in the cityscape, meant to give the perception that your Storm Team is searching everywhere in the small market for developing weather. In reality, the cameras rarely show anything more than a few street lights or some raindrops on a foggy lens.
Local TV news is much better at reporting the weather than predicting it. Spot one lonely snowflake floating in the sky and watch the Storm Team break out of the locker room and onto every slushy street corner and slippery highway shoulder.
“Bob, the snowflake has just hit the ground. Motorists don’t seem fazed yet. But the night is still young and more flakes could land at any moment. Just how many? We’ll tell you coming up later in this newscast.”

Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2005 Ted Mandell