Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

January 6, 2014

Weather's severity is all relative

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Weather can be a news story quite often. Here in Western New York, a typical snowstorm brings several inches of flaky white stuff and we all deal with it pretty well. Using either a shovel, a snowblower, a plow or some combination thereof, we dig ourselves out, wait for the worst to be over, and move on with our lives.

Last week was unique in that the snow combined with frigid temperatures that were below zero without the aid of the wind. I don’t care who you are or where you are from: that is COLD! And that cold is apparently set to come back tonight.

Over the past several years it seems storm warnings and states of emergency have been declared with increased frequency. I have no scientific data to back up this statement, as I’m relying only on a gut feeling. 

Having lived in the South and the Midwest, I will, however, say this: at least the local stations try not to completely blow weather stories out of proportion. They do. But weather is relative. In the mid-80s I lived in South Carolina, it snowed half an inch, and schools closed. A few years later, it snowed maybe four or five inches at my family’s home in Virginia Beach, and again schools closed.

Neither place was equipped like WNY to handle the snow, but looking back now I am forced to laugh. Half an inch up here barely registers on most people’s radar. A few inches causes us to be careful, but it, too, is relatively unimpressive.

When all the storm warnings and travel advisories were issued last week I must say that I agreed with them. I’d been on the roads earlier in the day and thought they were bad. Unnecessary travel should be avoided in conditions like that.

But as a colleague of mine has already written, treating every storm like it’s its own apocalypse is ridiculous. Unfortunately, though, too many people in today’s world need to be reminded not to be stupid.

In the Midwest, I’ll admit I was one of those people. See, out there, local stations broke into prime time programming frequently in the spring and fall and interrupted some of my favorite TV shows to “break the news” that rain was on the way.

Yes. Rain.

Being on the fringes of Tornado Alley, any rainstorm in Iowa always has potential to turn into something bigger. Still, not every rainstorm was necessarily a newsworthy event. 

There was one time I can recall the tornado sirens in downtown Des Moines sounding and my curiosity getting the best of me as I ventured onto the balcony of our eighth-floor apartment. Looking to the north toward the airport, I could see a wall cloud forming. 

Looking back, that was not the smartest thing to do.

After all, the local stations were warning everyone to stay indoors and that major torrential downpours were on their way. The rain did, in fact, reach us. And it lasted quite a while. The wall cloud, however, did not fully form into a tornado.

In getting information for the story on the front page today, I asked a meteorologist at Buffalo’s National Weather Service location weather storm warnings were more frequently issued today. He said that is not necessarily the case.

What he did say made sense. Between social media and 24-hour news stations, people today are generally more tuned in to the news than they have been in the past. He joked to me that 20 years ago a storm warning was issued on the 6 p.m. newscast and that was it, but now people get weather alerts on their phones.

It was an excellent point and one I had not thought of before. 

Still, just because we have access to more weather alerts now does not mean we should ignore them. We’re in the middle of winter right now, and the cold and snow are not going away any time soon.

So dress warm and drive carefully.

Howard Balaban is a reporter for the Lockport Journal. He can be reached at howard.balaban@lockportjournal.com.