Thursday, February 3, 2011

Heck-of-a-storm ... it's all relative

Our latest round of winter weather, once again, has news and weather reporters pawing the earth, or in our part of the country, pawing the ice, as they report snow, ice, wind and other generally catastrophic conditions from coast to coast.

If these prognosticators keep going, it will be necessary to invent new adjectives to describe storms as they have used up all of the existing ones.

As we watch and listen to reporters in Dallas describe their inch of snow while their counterparts in Chicago brave blizzard conditions, we hear much talk of “worst ever” and “unlike anything before.”

Sure, the weather is bad, but I believe that there is a perspective that we don’t often think about and one that our news and weather folks choose to ignore.

First of all, let’s look at the population of the United States in, say, 1810. The Census Bureau indicates that just over 7 million people lived here. The population rose to around 92 million by 1910. The United States census of 2000 shows us close to 300 million strong.

Next, we must consider communications ability during the time period. And last, we must look at our dependency on others from generation to generation.

One might suggest that media members have become more prone to embellishment as we have progressed but, I believe that may not have changed that much. I have no difficulty believing that journalists of centuries-past were as quick with an extra adjective and any of their 21st century counterparts.

One of the more serious factors is the sheer number of “media outlets” today. A century, or two, ago, there weren’t that many newspapers. And, of course, there was no radio or television, let alone anything like the Internet.

Now, it seems everyone thinks they are a reporter, and many media outlets encourage this. So, when a single flake of snow falls from the sky, there are a hundred people there, cell phones in hand, to take photos and cry, “it is snowing.”

Adding to the circus is the professional media who must report each and every aspect of the storm. I think they get bonus points for reporting from the most precarious or dangerous spot. The reasoning is that we are a “visual society.” The translation is that we have become too lazy to get off the couch and go look out the window.

When the good citizens of America had a blizzard or an ice storm in the 1800s, rather than looking to alert the media, folks hunkered down at home and rode it out. Most grew their own food so going hungry wasn’t an issue. There was no electricity to go out. There were no cars to slide off the road.

For the most part, Americans were heartier people then. Today, the thought of doing manual labor to dig out after a storm is beyond the ability of many Americans. 

All of this adds up to my belief that many storms and weather events of today are no more powerful than those of the past. The differences are that our population has grown enormously, so more people are in harm’s way. A vast majority of our population have few skills to fend for themselves, even for short periods without electricity, fast food and WalMart.

We go through periods of cold and snow. We endure times of heat and drought. The media will continue to keep Americans informed. Some media outlets will choose to document every detail of every event. They may also relish the opportunity to speculate how each event might be the “most powerful” or “most destructive” of all time.

Rest assured that it is all relative. Storms and other weather events have been happening for centuries. We just have more people affected now, because we continue to grow, and more damage because there is more property in harm’s way.

It is also a reminder that we humans can believe what we like about being in control, but when it comes to Mother Nature, we are just along for the ride … and sometimes, the ride gets rough.

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