Best Of Grizzard - Weather Reporting

  • Tuesday, February 27, 2024
  • Jerry Summers

The late Lewis Grizzard (LG) exercised his usual display of diplomacy with the prelude to his article on weather forecasting with an Old Journalism School Saying- “If local television news were an animal, it would be a duck!”

(The comparison of said saying to describe how many snowflakes are falling on Monteagle Mountain are left to the subjective interpretation of the reader during the blizzard of January 2024, etc.)

In “Won’t You Come Home, Billy Bob Bailey?” (1980- Peachtree Publishers) the Sage of Moreland demonstrates his ability to predict and forecast weather reporting. In his era the 6:00 and 11:00 news forecasts only included 30 seconds of rain, sleet, hail, tornados, hurricanes, etc. and predictions by John G, Don W, Bill R (an earlier version) and many others had their daily moments.

(As someone who has reaped the benefits of free advertising over the last 58 years- remember Harry T?- I prefer to let the uncensored remarks of LG take credit, or blame, for the following comments.):

“I was watching the local television news program the other evening, and a man walked onto the screen and talked for nearly five minutes about the weather. For nearly five minutes.

Television news has done it again, I said to myself. Gone slap overboard.

I can recall when the entire local television news program lasted only fifteen minutes. "President Eisenhower said today...," and what followed was quick and concise.

No would-be clever repartee between the anchor person and his underlings. No "live-action" reports from the site of an afternoon fender-bender.

You got the news, a few ball scores, and then out came a man in a baggy suit with the weather report. He drew a few raindrops and snowflakes and happy suns on a big map and said, "Today, it will rain. Tomorrow, it won't."

That was the weather report. That was enough. But local television news is always looking for a better way to do something that was fine in the first place. So Baggy Suit was eventually canned, and what followed him was the smiling "weathergirlperson."

And what can I do for you, young lady?" asked the station manager.

"I want to be a smiling weathergirlperson," said the sensuous blonde, crossing her legs.

"Can you draw raindrops and snowflakes and happy suns?" the station manager probed.

"No, but I'm a fast learner," replied the blonde.

"You're hired," said the station manager. So for years, we got our television weather reports from smiling weathergirlpersons.

"What's the weather for tomorrow, Bonnie Sue?" asked the eleven o'clock anchor man.

"A tornado will touch down at noon and wipe out half the city," answered Bonnie Sue, smiling.

But even that approach to television weather is dying. What stations, especially those in major markets, are doing today is hiring full-fledged, card-carrying meteorologists to give the weather, and their forecasts all have the stamp of approval of the American Meteorological Society, which sounds important even if it probably doesn't mean diddly.

The fellow I watched the other evening was one of the new breed of television weathermen. He had all the latest equipment. He had color radar. He had satellite photos. He gave me the latest information on upper-atmosphere air currents. He talked about "anomalous propagation," which sounded like something that should be performed only by consenting adults and only behind closed doors, and then he gave a long-range forecast that will last me from now to Groundhog Day.

I don't need that much. I don't want it. I don't understand it. Unless you happen to be a moose, who really cares if a high-pressure system is building over Saskatchewan? All that Fancy-smancy weather reporting has taken away the mystery of the weather, the anticipation of it.

We may as well forget the Farmer's Almanac and ignore the old man whose arthritis hasn't missed a rainstorm in fifty years. Local television news has a basic problem.

Because of its competitive nature and because people involved in television apparently do little thinking, it must constantly figure ways to combine show business with some occasional journalism.

That is what brought us giggling weather girls. That is what has now brought us weather reports that are too long and too complicated. That is what will eventually bring us television weather forecasts when somebody will walk out and sing.”

(We will save for another day LG’s proposed warm comments about the News Anchors ability to read a teleprompter and important canned news items from the jungles of Borneo and sidewalk restroom facilities in Portland and San Francisco.)

* * *

You can reach Jerry Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com

Jerry Summers
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