When did routine bad weather become such big news?

Cars and trucks are stopped in deep snow on Interstate 5 near Dunsmuir in northern California on Wednesday. Thanksgiving travel has been snarled in some places by a pair of powerful storms. (Caltrans via AP)
Cars and trucks are stopped in deep snow on Interstate 5 near Dunsmuir in northern California on Wednesday. Thanksgiving travel has been snarled in some places by a pair of powerful storms. (Caltrans via AP)
November 29, 2019 at 2:49 p.m. MST

Bad weather on Thanksgiving week can be stressful in the best of circumstances. But this week’s outbreak of TV weather hysteria was a sight to behold.

For days on end, even Trump news was booted from the top of the network evening newscasts by dire warnings of the “triple storm danger” heading across the country and the “holiday travel nightmare” likely to result. The reports hit all the usual TV-weather bases: shots of skidding cars and chugging snowplows; airport scenes of passengers stranded by flight delays; Al Roker bounding among the weather maps as though he were plotting a military operation. And, as always, the alarming statistics: 21 million people under winter-weather alerts; 97 million vulnerable to high winds; “2,000 miles’ worth of winter-storm watches, advisories and warnings,” stretching from California to the upper Midwest.

Just when did ordinary winter storms — lots of snow in Denver, surprise! — become such big news? I doubt Walter Cronkite introduced more than a handful of weather stories during his entire 19-year run as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.” Dan Rather, Cronkite’s successor, was famously fond of hanging onto lampposts in the middle of hurricanes. But for the most part, routine stretches of bad weather were considered just that: routine.

No more. Now, every cold front that threatens to slicken roads and cause airport delays along the Eastern corridor (where, not merely coincidentally, almost all network TV news executives live and work) has become urgent news. And not just in winter. Springtime thunderstorms, summer heat waves, the first cold snap of the fall — all of them get breathless treatment, often accompanied by a barrage of scary stats: “14 states under severe weather watches”; “24 million people at risk for the possibility of tornadoes”; “43 million people at risk for flash flooding.” I grew up in Kansas City, Mo., in what used to be known as Tornado Alley. In the late spring and early summer, we were always at risk. It never seemed to make the national news.

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