Unintended consequences of Weather Channel: scaring old folks

November 24, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

If you want to know what frightens senior citizens more than anything else in this country, it's not complex Medicare rules or rising prescription costs or pension problems.

It's the Weather Channel.

The Weather Channel's new logo is: "Bringing Weather to Life."

But it really should be: "Proudly Scaring the Hell out of People Since 1982."

The fact is, we've become a nation fixated on the weather. And no demographic group is more fixated than senior citizens.

Apparently, if you're 65 or older, you're required by law to watch the Weather Channel at least four hours a day.

So now, besides being terrified by the weather forecast for their own area, seniors can be terrified by the weather forecast for everywhere else in the country, too.

This is why senior citizens should not be allowed to watch the Weather Channel.

If you're 65 or over, there should be a little box attached to your cable system that prevents you from accessing the channel.

This would prevent aberrant behavior like that of my buddy Gil, a retired attorney, who has to watch the Weather Channel before - get this - he heads off to the gym to play basketball with his retired buddies.

Think about that for a minute.

Here's a man who won't leave the house without watching the Weather Channel, OK?

But he's not checking the weather before, say, a long flight to California.

He's not checking it before a long car trip to Florida.

He's checking it before a 10-minute drive to the gym!

You don't think a man like this needs a break from the Weather Channel?

And if there were some kind of senior-block on the channel, it would prevent my mother from watching it and flipping out every time we're scheduled to drive to her house for Thanksgiving.

She called me from her home in southern New York a few nights ago after watching her favorite Weather Channel segment: the Holiday Travel Forecast.

"They're calling for a mix of snow and rain for Thanksgiving," she said mournfully.

"Who's calling for it?" I asked.

"Sharon and Mike," she said.

Oh.

Well, if Sharon and Mike say it's going to be bad ...

It took me a minute to figure out that Sharon and Mike were Sharon Resultan and Mike Bettes, the crack Weather Channel meteorologists charged with scaring the hell out of people on the weekends.

Two thoughts occurred to me immediately.

No. 1, how bad is it when your 84-year-old mother is on a first-name basis with the people on the Weather Channel?

And No. 2, in all the years that my mother has monitored the Holiday Travel Forecast, not once has the forecast been anything but horrible for our Thanksgiving trip.

Not once has it been, say, sunny and 60 degrees.

No, it's always cold and rainy, with the threat of sleet or snow lurking in the background, ready to turn the highways into killing fields at a moment's notice.

And, let's face it, severe weather is the raison d'etre of the Weather Channel.

Who's going to get excited hearing it's cloudy and 70 in Orlando?

Sunny and - ho-hum - 45 in Boston?

Rainy and 55 in Seattle?

But a nice howling blizzard sweeping down from the Great Lakes, ready to dump 2 feet of snow and paralyze all life from New England to the Mid-Atlantic states, well, now you're talking ratings!

And you can see it in the faces of the Weather Channel people, can't you?

Severe weather makes them glow.

Their breath comes in excited little gasps as they deliver the ominous news; you can almost feel the adrenaline coursing through their bodies.

Killer tornadoes in Missouri!

A monster hurricane bearing down on Florida!

Deadly mudslides ravage cliff-side homes in California!

Oh, God, they love it!

If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the high-fives and the popping of champagne corks off-camera when severe weather strikes.

In the meantime, a retired attorney in Timonium listens to all this and thinks: "I wonder if I can make it to the gym without a twister picking up my car and throwing it into the next county?"

And a little old lady in southern New York hears a Thanksgiving forecast with the words "a mix of rain and snow" and thinks the world is coming to an end.

On the Weather Channel, it always is.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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