May 10, 2004

weather Reports

Heh. The local newspaper for Rochester, Minn., is the Rochester Post-Bulletin, and it's a newspaper that thinks quite highly of itself, or at least the newspaper staff thinks quite highly of itself. I imagine the actual newspaper doesn't do much thinking at all.

I get a kick out of the P-B, or at least its local reporting. Some of the stuff they pass off as groundbreaking, front-page news is laughable to the core. Granted, I took it in the shorts quite awhile back when I wrote in complaining that they dedicated front page space to a story about a cat that had been set on fire. Boy, did I catch all holy hell for that one. Oops.

Anyway, their latest gem is an article, no doubt front page stuff, about the big thunderstorm we had last night. For sheer entertainment, it's tough to top a news article about weather that went through the night or day before. It lacks the immediacy of on-the-spot broadcast reporting, which features nutball reporters standing outside in blustery, dangerous conditions, telling the viewers it's a bad idea to stand outside in blustery, dangerous conditions. But, after-the-fact print stories are jam-packed with useful information you may have missed.

Since you have to have a password to read the article, I'll just paste in sections right here for your convenience.

Storms usher in hail and tornadoes

Monday, May 10, 2004

From staff and news service reports

A rapidly developing storm system spawned tornadoes, funnel clouds and hail as it swept from west-central Minnesota through the Twin Cities area Sunday.

Not a bad lead paragraph. It grabs the attention. I'm ready to learn more.

Tornadoes and funnel clouds were reported near Pennock and Eagle Lake in Kandiyohi County, near Litchfield in Meeker County, near Kimball in Stearns County, near Elk River in Sherburne County, near New Germany in Carver County, and near Greenfield and Maple Grove in Hennepin County.

I'm not sure which bothers me more here. The fact that the paragraph was so utterly boring, or that Minnesota has such red neck sounding counties.

In the southeastern corner of the state, however, only strong winds and some heavy rain were reported. No funnel clouds or significant damage were reported.

That almost comes across as sounding disappointed, dontcha think?

The National weather Service reported the heaviest rain in the area was 3.65 inches in Lake City, followed by 3.38 inches in Wabasha and 1.63 inches in Harmony. Other cities reported less than an inch. Rochester got 0.42 inch of rain from the storm; Austin, 0.52 inch; Preston, 0.3 inch, Dodge Center, 0.67 inch; and Grand Meadow, 0.64 inch.

Agh! Boring, boring, boring!

More rain is expected during the next several days, with highs in the mid-70s early in the week but dropping to the 60s by the end of the week.

Zzzzzzzz. *snort* Wha? You're still reading?

On Sunday, separate sets of severe thunderstorms rumbled across southern and northeastern Minnesota. A tornado touched down near Lismore in Nobles County in southwestern Minnesota.

Okay. That's enough with the facts and figures here. I'm dying! We need a local angle, and we need it NOW!

A tornado smashed the garage at the home of Jeff Johnson in largely rural Greenfield, scattering debris across his large back yard. He said he was on his deck celebrating Mother's Day with his wife, five daughters and mother-in-law when they felt the rain and wind starting to pick up.

"I was trying to get to the door to shut one of the doors. The door blew open, knocked me down, actually blew it off the hinges and knocked everybody else down," Johnson told the station.

One gets the impression that Jeff Johnson got excited that he was being interviewed and started embellishing toward the end there. "The door blew open, knocked me down, ACTUALLY blew it off the hinges and knocked EVERYBODY else down. Yeah, that's the ticket!"

Before they could get to the basement, the storm had passed, he said. Fortunately, they all escaped injury.

Either they have the most difficult basement in the world to obtain entry to, or that storm was one fast motherf*cker.

A turkey barn sustained some damage outside of Pennock

Funniest. weather. Story. Excerpt. EVER!

Tornadoes in the Willmar area turned the sky black with the dust they picked up from dry farm fields. Some homeowners found corn stalks blown into their yards by the storm.

Corn stalks? CORN STALKS! I could blow freakin' corn stalks into a yard. Big fricken' deal!

The skies turned dark as night as the storm hit downtown Minneapolis.

I'm thinking of Snoopy, sitting atop his dog house, writing "It was a dark and stormy night."

I shouldn't be poking fun here. I've written along these lines before.

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 May 10, 2004 03:40 PM
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