People on TV talk too much about the weather, and we've got to do something about it. You don't need a weatherman if he's gonna be a windbag.
All we really want to know from the weatherman is this: How hot is it going to be tomorrow, and is it going to rain?
Not the weather today. This is why windows were invented.
Not the weather in Yakima or Europe. Nobody's going to Yakima. And if you're going to Europe, it's not like you're going to cancel because it's drizzling.
Give us a weather forecast for right here.
How hot? Will it rain? Thanks.
This should take three seconds.
The weatherman now has time to tell a quick joke.
Why did the Siamese twins move to England?
Because the other one wanted to drive.
That takes four seconds. Now, some obligatory snappy repartee with the anchor:
"Any chance of a typhoon here by midnight?"
And that's it. Goodbye. Bring on the sports.
But this isn't what we're getting. Somehow weathermen have become the stars of the newscast. The new technology -- the satellite maps, the ability to "put the clouds in motion" and the color radar screen -- make a weatherman into the Sharper Image catalogue.
My favorite, bless her, is Channel 5's Sue Palka, the Nicholas Nickleby of local weather, who does a three-act 20-minute tour de force each night. She'll start out in the "weather center," surrounded by things that look like weather maps with oscillating fronts and isobars, but are really huge magnifications of bees' heads. She'll move to the main news desk for a brief chitchat, then get up and run through a slide show: color charts, radar echoes, stock footage of tornadoes killing everyone in Iowa, weather here, weather across the country, weather around the world -- Sue's first with the tropical depressions 700 miles east-southeast of Argentina that might get here for Sukkot -- and she wraps up with her guess on tomorrow's temperature and a five-day forecast that is the same every day from June to September: hazy, hot and humid with a chance of thundershowers.
The only thing Sue doesn't have is Doppler Radar. That's Channel 9. It's very bright, very arty. On screen, it looks like a pair of Andre Agassi's tennis shorts. Before Doppler Radar, Channel 9 had Gordon Barnes, who sold his weather forecasts to every bean-can radio station and tout sheet within 300 miles. He was the first wholly owned weather corporation. His forecast was so good, God called to find out whether He should pack an umbrella. Apparently, Barnes was irreplaceable, since Channel 9 now has 28 guys doing the weather, the standout being an apprentice hunk who wants to be a lounge singer. (Tell me something: Why do all the weathermen show you a map with temperatures from 462 area locations that are about eight blocks apart? What, you're supposed to feel better than your friend in Bethesda because it's one degree cooler where you live? "Fred, I'm watching the weather. I told you not to buy there. I told you it'd be an oven. Am I right? Am I right? I'm right, right??")
Channel 7, the station nobody watches, has Jerry Brown, the former governor of California. Channel 4 has Bob Ryan, the king in town, the inventor of "humiture," a combination of temperature and humidity. The problem with humiture is that Ryan still has to define it each night. "It's the way it feels outside," he says. We know how it feels outside. It feels like death outside. That's why we're inside watching you. Tell us what it'll be TOMORROW!
In the early days of TV, weather was simple. There was a voluptuous weather girl. Maybe she told you the right weather, maybe she didn't. Weather girls disappeared and were replaced by weather bozos. Weather bozos were middle-aged men who couldn't tell a cumulonimbus cloud from a cowflop, but had gimmicks for the forecast. Tex Antoine in New York had a dummy he named Uncle Weatherbee. When it was going to be cold, Antoine put a scarf around Uncle Weatherbee. Weather bozos were great, joyful fun. Willard Scott is a weather bozo, and I say that with all due respect. I admire Willard because he's the least pretentious person on TV. So he isn't sure if it's going to rain this afternoon, so what? Neither am I. In truth, we ask very little from a weatherman: How hot? Any rain? Do the best you can. We don't get mad when they're wrong -- we expect them to be wrong. We're very forgiving.
Now, unfortunately, we have meteorologists. They have made weather into a homework assignment. They have one discernible skill -- pointing, which does not require four years' postgraduate work. Other than that, it's all hair and atmospheric whim-wham. Who cares where the jet stream is, as long as it isn't coming through your living room. They act like they're inventing the wheel when the truth is they get the same forecast all the other weathermen get from the National Weather Service. They're reading the same maps and coming up with the same predictions. Just once, when all the other guys in town call for "hazy sun, 91 to 95 degrees," someone ought to take a flyer on "sub-zero temperatures and hail the size of human skulls."
And why do they preen when it's a nice day? They didn't make the weather. That's as stupid as when they apologize for rain. You don't see Dan Rather apologizing for the invasion of Kuwait.
Meteorology is the ruination of TV weather, just as Rotisserie leagues (and George Will) are the ruination of sports. My colleague Tom Callahan says if he was a weatherman he'd bring a machine on the set, his own private forecasting machine. It'd have whirligigs and doodads and whiz-bangs that make noises and spin around, and it'd look like what the Wizard of Oz used behind the curtain. Callahan would tell the viewers, "You can look at the other weathermen if you want, but none of them have a machine like this."
Him, I'd watch.