By Lynn Ashby 13 Sept. 2010
THE DEN – “It’s 120 in Austin and 111 in Dallas while Houston comes in with 212 and in….” says the weather guy on TV. Gad! I knew there was something to global warming, but this is ridiculous. Run for your lives, like to Greenland, which is rapidly losing its glaciers. Wait. I squint more closely at the TV screen. There, in small print up in one corner, are the tell-tale words: “Feels Like.”
They’ve done it again – scared the bejeebies out of me. By “they” I mean the overly dramatic, overly sensational weather wizards on our local TV news programs. It’s their way of grabbing the lead of the evening news, muscling aside the more earth-shattering anchors’ reports on apartment fires, car wrecks and senseless shootings at convenience stores. If our wannabe meteorologists (most of them are hair and teeth, very few are licensed meteorologists) were serious, they’d drop that misleading Feels Like – or Heat Index, which is another made-up term for the same mythical figure — and stick to what the thermometer in Presidio really states: an honest 123 degrees.
However, if they want to play temperature inflation to garner better ratings, they could tell us the mid-day temps on an asphalt parking lot or inside a car trunk parked next to an aluminum foundry. How hot is it? We have the standard TV shot every weather person is sworn to perform: fry an egg on the sidewalk. It’s required by the FCC. On the other hand, a local station can certainly boost ratings by announcing that the temperature, in the grasp of a Texas summer, is 45 degrees – at an ice skating rink, and 29 degrees – in a grocery store walk-in freezer. “Here’s the thermometer, Sally May. As you can see, it’s a chilly 29 degrees — next to the frozen eggplants.”
Such readings would be no more misleading than giving us Feels Like, a totally imaginary, meaningless figure, which is why no outdoor bank sign will show a Feels Like/Heat Index number alongside its equally misleading, “We make loans!” sign. No newspaper reports yesterday’s Feels Like figures or runs the forecast for today’s and tomorrow’s drummed-up numbers. NOAA does not record such readings. Only on local TV will these inflated figures be announced, and in breathless tones.
They are a mysterious mixture of temperature and humidity, but where, pray tell, is there not humidity? I mean, the middle of Death Valley has some humidity, so do the weather people take the regular temperature of 120 and add 25 degrees because there is 5 percent humidity? No, they subtract. Recently I heard on my local TV station (“Where the news is new”) that it was 110 in Phoenix but, because of the Heat Index, it only felt like 100. “My friends,” as one Phoenix resident might say now that he’s not in the Oval Office, “when it’s 110 degrees, it feels like 110. The lack of humidity doesn’t make it feel like 100.”
This brings us to yet another stealth term our weather folks toss out: Dew Point. The TV screen always lists the current Dew Point between the actual temperature and the humidity, because the dew point is determined by adding those two figures together, dividing by the wind speed and subtracting the channel’s number (divided by three if it’s in HD).
Next we have the winter equivalent of Feels Like and Dew Point: the Wind Chill Factor or WCF. This panic button is about as real as the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Rick Perry’s debate coach. The WCF is determined by adding the temperature, the wind speed and the ideal Nielsen ratings. The figure has absolutely no effect on pipes or plants, just human skin. If you are in a pasture north of Amarillo, it’s 2 degrees in a blizzard, and you aren’t pretty well covered up, then you deserve to be wind chilled.
Have you ever heard anyone, besides our weathermen, say, “The thermometer reads 98 but my X-57 Feels Like Detector, which I just got from Abercrombie & Fitch, reads 117.” You are walking down the street and a friend observes, “Boy, the Dew Point is sure high.” Or, “I think we may set a new Dew Point record today.” In the depths of winter, no one says, “The Wind Chill Factor is probably minus 34.”
Now we must discuss hurricanes. You don’t care? Even if you live 400 miles from the Gulf, hurricanes can disrupt your life and cost you a bundle. Who do you think pays the National Guard, the DPS and game wardens for working a 120-hour week during the evacuation? And, as a Texas taxpayer, you may be interested to know a couple of hundred thousand Katrinians are still in Texas in public housing projects, hospitals and jails. Speaking of visitors, you may want to know why 12 cousins suddenly drop in as refugees, along with their crying babies, dogs and pet anaconda.
We all need to pay attention to hurricanes, but we don’t need the semi-hysterical TV weather people with their Storm Alert! Or Hurricane Horror Headlines! OK, it’s their 15 minutes of fame, but they don’t have to be the isobar equivalent of “Mad Money”’s Jim Cramer, shouting advice on how to survive the oncoming disaster. We have discussed this before, but obviously KKK-TV (“Where news is mostly accurate”) or WIMP (“Your channel for stuff”) won’t take our advice.
Now, you ask, “What does all this mean, oh master?” What all this means, besides higher ratings, is pandering to self pity, victimization, poor little us. We can feel slightly sorry for ourselves when the temperature is 10 or 100 degrees, but throw in these artificial, inflated readings and we pay attention, for they’re talking about us, and us is important when we are the victims. We have a lot of professional victims these days. I think they get their talking points from the local TV weather reporters.
Lynn Ashby chills out at firstname.lastname@example.org