Jolly Forecasters Face a Media Storm

Everybody’s talking about weather forecasters, but nobody’s

doing anything about them.

Given the outrage and

sense of betrayal over the false alarums of early March, you’d think somebody

out there would, well, do something. Banish Al Roker to a buoy in the North

Atlantic. Impeach one of those ubiquitous forecasters named Field. Round up all

jolly, fat, middle-aged men on early-morning television shows on suspicion of

being a false prophet. Jeez, do something: Shoot the wounded, if necessary.

Just stop complaining!

While coal-mining, fire-fighting and batting over .300

against Roger Clemens may be among the most hazardous jobs in America, you’ll

get no argument from our embattled meteorologists that weather forecasting has

become a risky business, indeed. At a time when every cable-television blowhard

in America warns of impending gloom and doom on a nightly basis, when

newspapers proudly boast of horse-racing sayers of sooth who get it right three

races out of 10, weather forecasters are the only working stiffs who are strung

up along with their crystal balls when they get their prognostications wrong.

During the week that did

not find us eating from tins, cooking over open fire, huddling in

basements, dodging fallen electrical wires and tapping out messages to rescue

parties-in other words, when we didn’t get this year’s version of the storm of

the century-oh, how we turned on the jolly, perky weatherpeople! Leading the

way were professional newspaper columnists, who decided that those

meteorologists on television were to blame for getting us all worked up over

nothing. This is a curious business, because weather forecasting is not an art

practiced exclusively for the benefit of television audiences. Thanks to the

miracles of electronic hindsight, I was able to check the forecasts published

in the New York area’s daily newspapers. They sounded a lot like the forecasts

read by the television people-12 to 24 inches of snow, high winds, plagues of

locusts, etc. It must be noted, however, that as similar as the basic data was

(since it all comes from the National Weather Service), the television people

got to make better jokes. Then again, that’s why they’re television weather

personalities and not your run-of-the-mill N.W.S. meteorologists with green

eyeshades, digital thermometers and Ouija boards.

This column will leave it to others to comment upon the

accusation that television weather people seem to be engaged in entertainment

rather than the simple, accurate provision of information. Suffice to say,

though, that these courageous and unappreciated readers of Mother Nature’s

palms must learn that it is one thing to err, it is quite another thing to err

on matters affecting New Yorkers. If you were a resident of upstate Saratoga,

or of almost any place in New England, you would regard your local weather

personality as a lifesaver. This year’s storm of the century was, in fact, as

nasty as was predicted-outside the immediate New York City area. But as the

rest of the nation knows to its everlasting delight, if it doesn’t happen in

New York, then it doesn’t happen. If you predict this year’s storm of the

century to hit New York, it had better hit New York and not simply cause

collateral damage in, say, Boston or (God help you) Albany.

Thankfully, the media’s jackals and snarling wolves do not

take politics as seriously as they do weather reports. Otherwise, entire

battalions of talking heads would have been shamed into obscurity long ago,

instead of celebrated for the astounding insights that led them to foresee Bill

Clinton’s resignation in 1998, the Democratic takeover of the House in 2000,

the collapse of George W. Bush’s campaign last spring and the President’s

abandonment of his tax-cut plan, which should be happening any minute now. And

noted political prognosticator Dick Morris, who every now and again shares his

certainty that Hillary Clinton is on the verge of indictment, would be sharing

space with the New York Post ‘s

generally more accurate horoscope column.

If I seem to be a little too sympathetic for the season’s

villains, well, perhaps experience has softened me. In the fall of 1994, after

checking wind directions, taking note of the tides and tracking the progress of

several squalls, a reporter for this newspaper wrote that Rupert Murdoch would endorse Mario Cuomo’s

embattled re-election campaign. The day after this bold prediction

appeared, Mr. Murdoch’s Post endorsed

George Pataki. Oh, the humiliation!

You will be happy to know that the reporter who wrote that

story is no longer a reporter at this newspaper. He is an editor now, which

means he gets to field calls from writers wishing to discuss such matters as

the inevitable New York Mets victory in the Subway Series, the certain

breakthrough of the Rick Lazio campaign and the imminent rebound of the Dow

Jones Industrial Average.

If you don’t think that’s punishment enough, well, you’re

probably the type who wanted to see Richard Nixon in San Quentin.