It’s officially the bleak midwinter. Here’s how I know. The TV weathermen have gone nuts. I presently live in the border South where winters are comparatively mild, but you wouldn’t know it from the hysterics of the local meteorologists.
Here, maybe two or three days a year there’s snow. Yes, the temperatures are chilly, the skies a dispiriting leaden gray, the trees bare and skeletal. It’s hell, but golfers will be back in a month or so. Some never stopped, and though the grass is a dirty beige, it’s not covered in anything white and flaky.
So it’s a pretty pleasant circle of hell compared to where I grew up, alongside a Great Lake. We’re talking three, four months of snow minimum, sleet, icy roads, salt trucks, lake effect snow, north winds cold enough to stop the blood in your veins, winds able to knock you off your feet and cold so constant that you could walk to Canada — on the lake! A few winters I was fated to spend in Minnesota were even worse, making Ohio winter seem like a summer camp.
None of which stops the local meteorologists here from acting like they are broadcasting from the Klondike. They clearly have a bad case of tundra envy. All the big-time New York network weather guys have got unutterably vile weather to describe over and over for week after week. They can fill their five minutes with terrifying video of every miserable winter weather event from 30 Rock to 90 North. Alberta Clippers, Newfoundland Windjammers, Polar Vortices, immense Midwestern traffic pile-ups, white outs, dog sled rescue missions, the latest version of the Donner Party.
Alongside that, what have we got that’s worth televising and catastophizing about? Not much. Ice on an occasional bridge. The need to run back in the house to fetch a pancake turner to scrape a windshield with. A fleeting temptation to splurge on a pair of gloves. An excuse for women to buy unnecessary boots up to their knees as a fashion accessory.
It must be very dispiriting for them, but you can keep a competitive weatherman down. As soon as the mercury sinks below 35, they are outdoors in bulky parkas and silly hats acting like they’re drilling for oil on the North Slope of Alaska or preparing for the ascent of Annapurna. They show doppler radar pictures that’s are a sea of encroaching white about to engulf the area, yet no flake actually falls from the sky. All that white on the radar is apparently clouds. Or like the ladies’ boots, the doppler images may merely be a winter fashion statement.
Not long ago there actually was a bit of frost, so a weather girl in her Iditarod outfit was dispatched to a rural roadside where a few specks of white could be discerned on a ground cover of kudzu. She kept warning how treacherous the roads could become when they froze, which might have been true if there had been any precipitation. But the scant traffic behind her zipped along oblivious to her need for some scary visuals. No slips, no skids, no collisions. No ratings-boosting Grand Guignol. All very anticlimactic.
Admittedly, there’s always hope. Since the locals have no practice driving in ice and snow, they do it really badly. A flake or two and schools close, businesses send home their employees, everyone races to the supermarket to clean the shelves of milk, bread, beer, ammo and other staples, as if they were going to be snowbound for months instead of watching the paltry half inch of snow melt by 9 AM the next morning.
Of course, the state and city are as unprepared as the populous for any hint of foul weather. They have few snow plows and minimal reserves of salt so the mildest snow can result in slippery roads. The locals reaction to this is not to proceed with caution but to speed up to get home really fast. This of course only increased the risk of traffic accidents as they steer wildly, slam on brakes, careen through intersections and skid into one another. Often the terror of their own driving so unmans them that they abandon cars which soon dot the landscape as their owners decide to mush home afoot.
Soon enough, the chance for meteorological glory for this winter will be gone. Spring will arrive while up north they are still knee deep in winter. So the scaremongers will move on to tornado envy of the plains states and in late summer hurricane envy of those lucky broadcasters in Florida. No doubt they inwardly lament the fact that all they will have to report for many months is godawful humidity which shows up not at all on doppler and is stubbornly unphotogenic. The life of a southern weatherman is thankless, almost as forlorn as being a crime reporter in Utah or a sunbather is Seattle.