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Don Cunningham: Remember When the Weather Wasn’t News?

By Colin McEvoy on February 28, 2022

This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on February 25, 2021. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

Do you remember when the weather wasn’t news?

I’ve lived in Pennsylvania my entire 56 years. Here’s the summary:

In the winter, sometimes it gets very cold and snows. In the summer, sometimes it gets very hot and humid. And, in the spring and fall, it’s generally quite pleasant but it sometimes rains.

We have all four seasons here in the Lehigh Valley. None of them are very severe.

About every 90 days there’s a new block of weather, and natural disasters are rare. There’s occasional minor flooding, but you’re not likely to experience a tsunami, wildfire, earthquake, prolonged drought, 120-degree day, hurricane, or tornado. There are no mudslides, avalanches, or volcanic eruptions.

Pretty much, the perfect weather and climate; lots of variety and safe.

Yet, the impending weather of the hour, day and week dominate the news.

“Look out, it may snow one to two inches in four days.”

“The thermostat may hit 100 tomorrow; drink lots of water.”

“Wintry mix is on the horizon — but we’re not sure because weather forecasting isn’t an exact science (but if we scare you enough, you’ll click right here)!”

Those headlines are made up, but not the message.

Remember the days you just walked outside to a minor surprise? If it was winter, you knew to wear a jacket and have a scraper in the car. Otherwise, it was wise to have an umbrella in the car or nearby. That’s still the necessary preparation.

I don’t blame the news media. They need eyeballs: viewers for television and clicks online.

They are fighting to survive in a world of never-ending, free content online and a preponderance of social media channels. Well-educated, experienced journalists, who know better, are competing with American’s proclivity for cat videos, reality television and 10-second Tik-Tok posts of grandma dancing.

It’s a world turned upside down.

A snowstorm forecast in 2022 receives more consecutive days of headline coverage than the Yalta Conference in 1945, where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin hammered out a new world order for post-World War II.

And, like lemmings to the refrigerated section, people who should know better because they’ve lived here for 50 years rush to the grocery story to empty the shelves of bread, milk, and toilet paper. Understandable if you live in a mountain top cabin in Wyoming, but not the west end of Allentown.

If we’re not hearty enough as a society to live without bread and milk for a few days after six inches of snow — toilet paper may be another story — we have bigger problems.

But we’re scared into it.

After a week of top stories on Action News, reporters broadcasting live from PennDOT plow garages, and online headlines more horrifying than watching all 12 movies in the Halloween franchise, we do as directed.

As Don Henley sings on the Eagles classic song Hotel California: “‘Relax,’ said the night man, ‘we are programmed to receive. You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.’”

That should be the slogan of the Internet: you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.

Even if you’re not following the 65th weather update of the day, you can be sure the people around you are and will be sharing it with you.

There’s something intoxicating and alluring about the latest news flash.

When the singer Meat Loaf died, I got 10 notices on my phone from various media sites and another 10 texts from friends telling me we now lived in a world without Mr. Loaf. I’m not even a Meat Loaf fan, although like so many in 1977, I did buy “Bat Out of Hell.”

Everyone now traffics in instant information.

It was Meat Loaf not Queen Elizabeth. I dread the day she goes.

I have friends who have multiple weather apps on their phone and can analyze cloud movements and precipitation probabilities better than NASA. They always want to show me their screens. I’m not interested.

It just translates to the same thing for me. I have an umbrella in the car.

There’s a great new book by Eric Weiner called “The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers,” in which he writes, “In the mind-numbing clamor that is social media the sound of the true is drowned out by the noise of the new. … We confuse the new with the good, the novel with the valuable.”

I miss the 1970s when once a day you picked up a newspaper on the front porch, sat down to a bowl of cereal and scanned the box scores to see who got hits last night for the Yankees or Phillies. You had to use your imagination to figure out how the runs were scored.

Now, the highlight pops up on your phone before the inning ends.

I’m not sure we’re better off for it.

“We confuse data with information, information with knowledge, and knowledge with wisdom,” Weiner writes.

There was another upside to the actual newspaper.

In the event of unexpected blizzard, you didn’t have to worry if you made it out in advance to stock up on toilet paper.

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