The media’s adoption of the ‘Godzilla’ moniker has drawn the ire of quite a few meteorologists, who now worry the phenomenon is being overhyped.
But I’d respectfully encourage them to relax – there is little harm in using colorful, inventive language to describe a weather pattern, especially one which has a chance to make history.
Often when ‘the media’ latches onto a new and exciting weather term, there is blow back from a contingent of the meteorological community.
Here are just a few tweets representative of the backlash ‘Godzilla El Niño’ has faced:
I think some feel, due to their education and position, as if they’re the gatekeepers of how weather terminology should be used and applied.
In an ideal world, the people that know the most about some given topic could ‘control’ how it’s conveyed. But, in practice, that’s not how it works.
Journalists are going to most prominently quote the scientists who use words that will best capture their reader’s imagination, not the scientists who explain it using the most technical terms.
I say it often: If you’re boring, you’re irrelevant in weather communication.
But being exciting, interesting, and engaging, doesn’t mean being wrong or ill-equipped to speak.
Meteorologists with legitimate credentials incited the polar vortex rage that consumed the media the past two winters. And it was a National Weather Service meteorologist who invented the brilliant nickname “Frankenstorm” for Hurricane Sandy, which went viral.
Patzert, the NASA scientist who came up with ‘Godzilla El Niño’, has a Ph.D. in oceanography and has published numerous academic studies on the subject.
Scientists who are successful in talking to the media and to the public find the sweet spot – where the information they provide is accurate and also creative and memorable. I would say Patzert succeeded with his ‘Godzilla’ reference.
It’s not to say there aren’t some segments of the media that make egregious errors in their weather coverage or even scientists who go over the top and misspeak. And they should be called out, so that the record can be corrected. But let’s not fault scientists who are successful in credibly speaking in engaging, plain English.
Lastly, let me address the notion that ‘hyping’ or sensationalizing the weather will make the public take it less seriously. There might be some truth to that. But, I would contend that a weather topic that attracts this much attention has a far more important effect of educating the public and raising awareness.
So instead of knocking fun, buzz-worthy weather terms, let’s embrace them or, at the very least, use them as an opportunity to inform.