January 19, 2003

"Your Guide to weather Reporting"

"Your Guide to weather Reporting" c. Ryan Rhodes, Feb. 1, 2000

As much as I despise the winter season with its cold weather, massive snow accumulation, boredom inducing cabin fever, and overall miserable conditions, I do enjoy one treasured aspect: the winter weather news story. They always make me laugh.

Now, I'm not talking about weather stories that warn about approaching weather patterns. Those are at least useful. If I hear that there's a big winter storm heading my way, I take precautionary measures, like leaving work early, cooking a pizza, and taking a nap. No, the weather stories that make me laugh are the ones that appear during the days after a big storm.

People love to read weather stories, because people like to believe that the weather pattern they just endured was truly a historic experience. The very fact that they survived such a traumatic onslaught of Mother Nature's wrath is testimony to their hearty survival instincts. In this case, "survival instincts" include sitting in front of the TV, eating canned soup, and stealing sidelong glances out the window at the menacing storm outside.

I've read countless storm stories. Truth be told, I've even had to write quite a few. weather story content always includes a treasure trove of humorous creative writing. If you ever find yourself under deadline pressures to write a quality weather story (hey, it could happen), keep the following tips in mind.

Be generous with adjectives and personification. Storms are really no more than random weather events that coalesce in random locations during random times of the year. However, a weather story that leads off "A random weather event coalesced over Rochester and surrounding areas yesterday afternoon," just wouldn't grab a reader's attention. Instead, make the storm come alive, and give it some human characteristics to make it seem particularly menacing. liberally use such terms as "blanketed," "engulfed," "swirled," "blackened," and anything else that has an evil undertone.

You can never have too many facts and figures in a weather story. Sure, it may have just been a light dusting of snow that fell for a couple of hours during the afternoon, but a quick perusal of weather history and a little imagination can produce the award-winning sentence, "for one-third of the afternoon yesterday, area residents endured a winter onslaught that dumped 2.5 inches of snow, a snowfall total that ranks 53rd in the state's history." Really creative writers would say that "over one-sixth of a foot of snow fell." It's important to milk every measurement to achieve the maximum "wow" effect from the readers. Find out how many businesses and schools closed, and always do an airport check to see if any flights were canceled or delayed (there's always at least one, even without a storm). Are there cars in the ditch? Of course there are. Injuries? Don't forget those.

Never forget the human interest angle. Every storm, no matter how big or small, is bound to have affected the life of somebody, somewhere. Maybe the Kendall family down the road had a window broken by the wind, and the snow accumulated in their bathroom. Or perhaps their family dog was impaled when an icicle snapped off the garage. Keep an open ear for any such angle. Your readers will thank you for it. The chance to read about another person's misfortune will have the local coffee shop buzzing with good conversation for at least a week.

Never forget to focus on "what might have been." So, the storm missed you by 20 miles. So what? Now is the time to let speculation and conjecture run wild. People also like to read about how lucky they were to miss a horrific storm, so now is your chance to stoke that fire of interest. Twenty miles? In the whole scheme of things, and the vast expanse of the world, isn't that really just a "near miss?" How much snow "could have" fallen? Six inches (half a foot)? What are the chances that a storm could miss by such a slim margin?

These are questions that can be answered by your friendly National weather Service, a group of meteorology professionals who are always good for a menacing "what could have been" quote. "I don't know how that storm missed us," said Wayne Cloudburst, chief meteorologist at the National weather Service in LaCrosse, Wis. "If it had hit with its full potential, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. Chances are I'd be floating dead in the Mississippi River, somewhere down by New Orleans. We were really lucky."

So, the next time there's a big weather event of Satanical proportions about to engulf your area, be sure to read the newspaper the next day. Even if your dog was impaled by an icicle and your bathroom's full of snow, you're sure to get a good weather story laugh just the same.

Posted by Ryan at January 19, 2003 07:01 PM

Party Pocker - Poker

Posted by: Party Pocker at October 19, 2004 04:35 AM
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