By Bob Spiwak
Not much happening in Mazamaland over the past week. I’ve been kind of stove up with a bad back, which has enabled a lot of daytime television watching, something I rarely do other than weekend football games.
Being a weather freak, it afforded me a lot of watching of The Weather Channel during and after winter storms Hercules and Ion swept across half the nation. There was snow, bitter sub-zero cold, then a warming trend.
As we in the valley escaped the ravages of the above storms and weather fronts, there was little on the telly about what was going on here. However, over the past weekend there was an alert on the NOAA forecasts of a flood advisory right through today (Jan. 13).
Reading all the text however, the alert included an area that stretched from Lost River to the Snake River in Idaho. We consulted the snow station report from Harts Pass and found that there are 68 inches of snow up there, with a water content of 77 per cent of normal. Even with ice in the river and rising temperatures, there was little indication of flooding. However, a friend on the coast whose weather reports focus on Mazama called me to see if we were prepared for the possible flood.
Weather forecasts and things like The Weather Channel are a great benefit, and probably have saved many lives and property. However, they have also spawned a new phrase that may or may not gain some currency: “weather wimps.” The implication is that we are getting too much information and, from the bare science of meteorology trickling down to local newscasts, the stark weather information becomes more and more embellished with dramatic prose such as “killer” storms, “life-threatening conditions,” and so forth.
I once lived near Havre in eastern Montana, a place where the distinction of being the coldest temperature reading in the lower 48 states is not uncommon — the point being that there is a lot of territory near and above the Canadian border where such weather is a common and expected phenomenon. Most of the inhabitants are prepared for this, although to be fair, most of them do not live in large cities like Chicago and Minneapolis.
(When it was that cold in Montana, we would put a light bulb in the car’s engine compartment overnight and then cover the car with a blanket or two.)
We have been fortunate here at the end of the road to have had Dick Roberts for years, and now Rick LeDuc, as the official weather reporters, sending data to NOAA. How that is translated involves a lot of calculations, but how it is interpreted on the telly is where the theatrics, hyperbole and over-examination begin.
Mazama: Jan. 15, 2014
By Bob Spiwak