Arguably, media hype is really starting to get out of hand, especially with the weather…most recently with Hurricane Matthew and with a very strong storm in the Pacific Northwest just last week.
But, let’s face it- weather is news, and everyone wants to report it. But, as a meteorologist, I spend most of my time just shaking my head.
I would have never thought that a company like The Weather Company (Weather Channel) could make millions and millions of dollars simply “hyping” weather information that was already free-to-the-public via the National Weather Service. But they do it every day.
Buzzwords matter- Snowmageddon, Polar Vortex, Storm of the Century. But, do they really tell the right story? Let’s understand that the media has a financial incentive to get more views, more clicks, and higher ratings, and the way to achieve this is by using “scary” words.
Let’s not misunderstand- we can’t just assume that the media is overreacting. But, hype is views, and views are money.
PennLive, a news agency in Pennsylvania (The Patriot News) conducted an online poll last year, under the title “is There Too Much Media Hype About Snowstorms?”
Here are the results:
Some respectable meteorologists agree with the media hype. There certainly is a need to advertise bad weather that’s approaching.
Case in point, a University at Buffalo School of Management study in 2013 found that many folks don’t heed weather warnings…noting that weather warnings need to come from more than just one source to be effective.
The problem is, the computer weather models that are used to produce forecasts, including forecasts for destructive storms, often display a slew of possible outcomes. Some of these outcomes are less intimidating, and some are more intimidating. Generally, the real outcome is somewhere in the middle.
But, human nature generally promotes erring on the side of caution, which leads to often exaggerated weather forecasts. Better safe than sorry, some say…about 8% according to the PennLive survey.
What’s interesting is that over three-quarters of the respondents (77%) noted that there is either too much hype, or that they ignored the hype altogether. Another 12% said that they didn’t blame the media for hyping storm forecasts, but only 8% of survey contestants stated that the media doesn’t hype too much about dangerous weather.
Here’s my two cents. Get the weather information out there. Too much hype is like crying wolf, and not enough hype won’t trigger folks to take the preparatory actions that they should. Right now, it looks like about 90% of folks believe the media hypes hazardous weather coverage. It doesn’t sound very effective, if you ask me.
- Meteorologist Dan Schreiber