The calm before our storm
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Nov 07, 2012  |  Vote 0    0

The calm before our storm

Ottawa East News
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Here in the capital, we’re shaking our heads over how lightly we were touched by hurricane Sandy and its lengthy aftermath. What did we get? A little rain, a bit of wind. And how much do you want to bet that we’re all thinking: “That’s nice, but we’re going to pay for it when winter comes.”

That’s the fatalistic Canadian way of looking at it. If the weather spares us one day, it’s going to whack us the next. And just to add an extra dimension, an extra level of unease, remember how easy last winter was?

We’re going to get it, for sure.

When I was a youngish writer at the Citizen, we used to scoff at a succession of editors and publishers who insisted that the paper feature a weather story prominently almost every day. “How could the weather be news?” we wondered. Weather was just, well, weather.

Turns out we were wrong. Even in those days readers were interested in weather and today there is much more weather to be interested in and it is more than a question of will Friday be a good day to play golf. The weather touches us, in a way that we don’t always like.

We used to think that severe weather was fun. Nothing like a good storm to watch through the window or maybe even run around outside in for a while. After the ice storm of 1998 and the big winds of 2011, not to mention a couple of rather small but rather scary earthquakes, we know that much of the fun has gone out of such events.

Given this, it’s no surprise that people are paying more attention to the weather than they used to. They are encouraged in this by the news media, particularly all-news television, which have made the weather a large percentage of the news conversation even when there is no storm happening.

Even a storm that hasn’t happened yet is news. The storm might be coming, destruction is threatened. There is a weather watch, a weather warning, a red swirl on a map and it could, maybe, affect you.

The news media have learned that the story about the impending storm can have great value, even if the storm itself never materializes. There’s lots of excitement in talking about the damage and devastation that might occur, great visuals in putting reporters in storm gear in front of the cameras in places where the storm hasn’t arrived yet and if the storm never arrives, well, it was exciting, wasn’t it?

The problem with this kind of coverage is that people get used to it, come to believe that any storm warnings are exaggerated. The media cry wolf.

Who knows, it may be that some of the people who were victims of Sandy were outside because they didn’t believe the storm could be as bad as the media said it would be.

In the United States, the discussion about the storm quickly shifted to a discussion about the electoral politics of the storm, but not about climate change, which nobody wanted to talk about in an election year. Maybe now that the two storms, the real one and the political one, have died down, the discussion about climate change can begin again.

It’s overdue. Many experts are saying that we are going to be seeing a lot more of this kind of weather. Many experts also say that our society can do something to reduce that likelihood by changing some aspects of our behaviour. How to bring that about will not be easy and will not be without sacrifice, but it is the kind of question that needs to be debated fully. Maybe that debate can start.

In the meantime, we in the capital will go on being thankful for the weather we didn’t have and waiting confidently for things to get worse.

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