The Best and Worst of Last Night’s TV Weather Madness

Weather dominated Philadelphia's local news broadcasts last night. Who do you trust more: First Alert Weather or Storm Tracker 6 Double Scan radar?

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“A monster storm spanning half the country” was how Fox 29 anchor Iain Page kicked off Wednesday night’s 10 o’clock news. It hadn’t yet begun snowing, but forecasts were calling for between 4 and 6 inches. The radar showed that, yes, this storm was quite large. It has been cold this year, but we haven’t gotten a ton of snow accumulation. We were reminded quite often this snowfall could be larger than anything we’d seen in a year. “What could be our biggest snowstorm of the winter begins in just hours,” Page said.

The first seven minutes of Fox’s broadcast last night was focused on a storm that was not yet here, before moving on to the DOJ declining to file charges in Michael Brown’s death. Chris O’Connell drew the short straw and reported on what he said was winter’s 25th snow or ice event by talking to PennDOT. “They’re tired,” a supervisor said of his workers. “They want to go to Disney World where it’s warm.” He also engaged in one of the great Philadelphia weather traditions: Random interviewers of passers-by. “Totally over it,” one woman said. “Ready for spring. Ready for Memorial Day weekend.” This winter has been so exhausting we’re we’re skipping spring and heading right to summer.

There was plenty of other news on Fox’s broadcast — one report informed viewers Reebok was bringing back the Pump — and an extended promo for Empire, but the threat of the snowstorm hovered over the broadcast. Anchor Lucy Noland said Fox 29’s news coverage would begin at 3 a.m. Thursday. “We will stay on as long as you need us,” she said, bringing to mind visions of Steve Keeley being whitewashed by snowplow after snowplow last year until the viewing public is satiated.

“Just when a homeowner in Fishtown is going to need his snowblower the most,” Noland said. “What could be our biggest snowstorm of the winter begins in just hours,” Page said later in the broadcast, as if hyping an episode of Empire. (Later, this happened, too. “Inside Cookie’s closet — the secret is out!” Page intoned. Later, Noland said it with a little more gusto.)

Yes, the news gets a little goofy during a snowstorm. This is all news, especially now that everyone is chasing clicks online. Philly.com has John Bolaris. KYW 1060 reported on people stocking up at stores (bread and milk for adults, candy for the kids). We here at Philly mag even informed you of the snow emergency that began at 6 a.m. today.

Covering the weather is weird. The old adage is that it’s the only story that effects everyone, but there’s not that much you can do with it — especially in advance of a storm. On TV it’s probably the weirdest. The story is big enough to spend time on, but there are only so many maps a station can show. And so we get the same reports: The interviews of passers-by, the run on bread and milk, the rock salt shortage, the statement from PennDOT.

“Coming up, the salt is being loaded,” Jim Gardner said to open Action News last night. “Accuweather is tracking what could be our biggest snowstorm of the winter.” He opened the broadcast in front of a map featuring Action News Storm Tracker 6 Double Scan Radar, the latest weather map tagline from the local news folks. Channel 10 uses First Alert Weather as its tagline, meaning you have to decide whether you want to be alerted about the weather before anyone else or you want to get the storms tracked twice by radar.

Philadelphia’s local news stations all did similar reports. NBC 10’s George Spencer interviewed people about rock salt. Channel 10 informed us its morning news show would begin at 3 a.m. as well. Both CBS 3 — which uses “Eye on the Storm,” a more reserved slogan than the other stations — and 6 ABC went to the airport to report on delays. “I don’t fly very often, but it’s just horrible,” a traveler told 6 ABC. “You get all the way here, then day after day it’s canceled.”

Meanwhile, Diana Rocco of CBS 3 got a ton of great person-on-the-street snow quotes during her 11 p.m. report:

  • “It’s been brutal.”
  • “I don’t think it’s worse than last winter, but it’s still a nuisance.”
  • “We’re trying to find some salt, we went to Wegmans, Christmas Tree Shops, and Home Depot, they’re completely out. They sold two palates of salt in two hours.”
  • “The ice, it’s not so much the snow accumulation. But it’s the ice that makes it treacherous.”
  • “I’ve had enough of it. Work-wise, and just shoveling the sidewalks. I’m ready for summer.”
  • “Get to come out and play with the kids because they’ll be happy that they got that day off of school … Yes, I am [anticipating a snow day], as long as the weather man is right this time.”

But it’s not just the news that’s a little goofy during the weather. It’s us. A cashier at a drug store yesterday said they had been slammed all day. These reports became cliches somehow. She said people were stocking up on bread and milk and drugs and, yes, rock salt — they were out by late afternoon — all day. Storms cause people to do weird things. It’s four to six inches of snow! A “worst-case scenario” was a little over a foot. There’s no need to stock up on everything.

But the weather seems to make us do these things (with, most likely, a little urging from the media). But I think blaming the media is too easy. I follow National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Szatkowski on Twitter. Yesterday, he tweeted he’d had to block a bunch of people for their reactions to forecasts on Twitter. He pointed to Alabama meteorologist James Spann’s response to trolls — who, based on the tone of his post, are constantly spewing hate about everything from school closure decisions to missed forecasts. (“I appreciate how the vast majority of people who follow me conduct themselves,” Szatkowski tweeted.)

It’s not breaking news that people are assholes online. But my social media platforms were full of weather talk yesterday and this morning. They are every time there’s even the slightest threat of bad weather. The news media’s obsession with weather mirrors our own. And while TV weather coverage is often silly, we can at least take solace that the local news is giving us what we crave.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.