Why Philly Local News Is the Best During a Snowstorm

Philadelphia local news is often silly and pointless during a snowstorm. So what? It makes for entertaining, one-of-a-kind television.

I turned on the 10 o’clock news on Friday night. The first thing I saw was someone falling on her ass.

Turns out the video wasn’t even in Philadelphia: It was from Washington, D.C., earlier in the week. (You can tell it’s not Philly from the street signs.) But it was an auspicious start to the local news’ nonstop snow coverage this weekend. I knew it was going to be great.

Philadelphia doesn’t really have celebrities. When people get famous nationally, they generally have to leave in order to continue their careers. So instead of celebrities, we have local news anchors. And for some reason Philadelphia has a huge attachment to its local news personalities. I can admit I do, too. (I wrote about Kerri-Lee Halkett — now Kerri-Lee Mayland, and sadly now in Connecticut — a lot when I was in my early 20s blogging for Philadelphia Weekly.) The local news is frequently stupid. Who cares? It’s also always entertaining. And never does the local news shine more than it does during a snowstorm.

I watched at least 15 hours of local news this weekend. Maybe more. It was great! Philadelphians interrupted live news shots and hit reporters with snowballs. We saw live shots of people sledding down hills, invariably crashing at the end. We learned that the snow was falling, in case we didn’t have windows we could look out of. We learned the snow was stopping, and then it was coming back, and then it was leaving again. Reporters said “Duquesne” incorrectly. In Atlantic City, a reporter told us Glenn Straub’s yacht broke lose from the dock and hit other boats. Walter Perez said the Art Museum steps were the only hill in Philadelphia.

Off-screen, an exasperated Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz complained that NBC 10 spelled Wynnewood incorrectly. One Action News reporter helped push a car down the street. We saw shots of pigeons on top of snow-covered cars. A woman told a 6 ABC reporter that she walked three blocks in the snow to the Wawa to get cigarettes. We heard from smart-aleck bystanders who told reporters they were about to put on shorts and get some bikini oil.

There’s only so much to cover about the snow. The reports get weird. Many, many rulers are placed inside snow piles to give us an idea of how much has fallen. Viewers are shown ridiculous stunts — hoverboarding in the snow, for example, which came up several times — and then immediately told to not attempt something like that at home. Vittoria Woodill eventually ordered pancakes on air.

Sometimes the unexpected happens. Kids make funny gestures behind reporters. People get interviewed live on air and end up with nothing to say. At one point, Fox 29 sent it to commercial while The xx’s “Intro” played. Some Fox 29 producer made my day, and maybe the day of a handful of other people who like the English indie pop band.

I talked to CBS 3’s Pat Gallen, a sports reporter called into duty to travel through snowy Northeast Philadelphia on Saturday. He and cameraman Matt Maiorano spent the day traveling from the Port Richmond Wawa on Aramingo all the way to the city line at Knights and Frankford, stopping along the way to interview sledders and shovelers and people at about three additional Wawa locations. (Wawas are beacons for the hungry and the cigarette-addicted during snowstorms.)

“I was up at about 1:30 a.m.,” he says. “I got into the office by 3. And then we got right on the road and I got dropped off at home by about 4 p.m. And that was the same for basically all the reporters that worked in the morning… everyone here worked their butts off.” Gallen says some producers worked 18 hour shifts or more. Everyone’s up and working their butts off for so long that silly things happen.

And it is silly, of course. Reporters tell people to stay off the roads while they’re driving themselves. But I think the silliness of the coverage keeps people tuned in. That, in turn, keeps viewers in front of their sets when important information comes in. Or maybe I’m just defending the news because I want that snow entertainment, dangerous roads be damned.

We do learn a lot about our our city. Politicians get a lot of screen time — and it’s not about them stumping for votes or about making campaign promises. It’s about what they’re doing now for their citizens. Chris Christie yelled at Margate residents who oppose sand dunes. Tom Wolf expressed concern for people — including the Temple women’s gymnastics team — stuck in a 7-mile backup on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and later praised himself for his response. For many Philadelphians, this was a first chance to see how Jim Kenney, not even a month into his first term as Philadelphia mayor, would do. The jury’s still out on that one, but we did learn his mayoral catchphrase is going to be “I grew up in South Philly.”

The local news gives people a sense of community while they’re trapped inside. Sure, you can talk with your friends over the Internet while you’re stuck inside during a snowstorm. But you can see what strangers in your city are doing by watching the local news. You sometimes get a warm feeling, even in the cold, like everyone in Philadelphia is in this together for a weekend. You can also learn that you should probably head to the Art Museum steps if you’re nearby because scores of kids are sledding down it.

The day the storm hit, Kenney told people to stay inside and watch Netflix. It’s odd a guy who grew up in South Philly didn’t get what you’re supposed to do during the storm. Watching the local news during a snowstorm is as Philadelphian as the Mummers, as cheesesteaks, as soft pretzels.

The next time we get snow, I’ll be the same place I’ve been most of my life: On the couch, laughing at the local news. “I think we just all have sort of grown up with it,” says Gallen, who said he watched the local news during snowstorms as a kid, too. “What else is there to do? What else are you going do to? You want to know when the next foot of snow is going to drop and when it’s going to be.”

Follow @dhm on Twitter.