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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Whither the Weather

Air Date: Week of February 18, 2005

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Producer Guy Hand says television and film depictions of storm, sleet and hail are careening into the ridiculous. He's advocating more appreciation for the discomforts of bad weather.

Transcript

CURWOOD: The changing climate has been the topic of serious conversation and comment in our program this week. Climate – or what we commonly call "the weather" - is a big part of our daily discourse. When's the last time you had a conversation with someone – even a stranger – and the topic of weather didn't come up?

The weather; People love it, complain about it, and sometimes - fear it.

Producer and media maven Guy Hand has been musing about a torrent of unwarranted attacks on the weather. And he's had enough.

ANNOUNCER: We interrupt this program for a storm warning...

HAND: It's been a big winter for bad weather.

ANNOUNCER: City officials have declared a snow emergency in New York City. More dramatic video out of Utah where more homes have collapsed in the floodwaters. Take a look at this, a rare thunderstorm rocks Hollywood as it passed over the LA basin.

HAND: It's another season of media induced meteorological mayhem. TV news loves bad weather nearly as much as it loves a new Michael Jackson trial. And that can give the rest of us the feeling that we're at war with weather – and losing.

ANNOUNCER: What you see is happening now.

HAND: That we're on the verge of being flushed, freeze-dried, or fried at any moment. But that's not fair. Bad weather isn't all bad. I learned that from doing time in paradise.

[SOUND OF WAVES, GULLS, BEACH CONVERSATION]

HAND: I moved to Santa Barbara, California, in the early '90s, near the beginning of a very long drought, an endless summer that lasted seven years.

MAN: Shall we head back to the hotel and get our bathing suits on and go to the beach?

HAND: At first, I couldn't get enough of blue skies and warm breezes. It was, after all, the reason so many of us had deserted the bad weather fronts of Buffalo, Chicago and Boise, in the first place. But after a few years, all that storm-less perfection began to drive me a little crazy.

ANNOUNCER: And now the weather report: Sunny, 72.

HAND: This scene from LA Story felt less like comedy than depressing documentary.

ANNOUNCER: Our next weather report will be in four days.

HAND: This paradise was a climate on Prozac.

[Rain intro to the Doors' ‘Riders on the Storm']

HAND: It was enough to make you ache for clouds, for the smell of rain and the crack of thunder; for something, anything in the sky.

[MUSIC: Rain and thunder from ‘Riders on the Storm']

HAND: As the sun vaporized reservoirs, roasted lawns and wrinkled faces, I started searching for real weather. But the only place I could find it was TV.

ANNOUNCER: The Ultimate Guide to Extreme Weather . . . on the Discovery Channel.

HAND: It may have been sunny in southern California, but all over the airwaves the skies were falling.

ANNOUNCER: And now the conclusion of Nor'easters, killer storms, here on the History Channel.

HAND: Until then, I'd never noticed how TV, especially cable TV, demonizes weather.

ANNOUNCER: There's a tornado right out my back door!

HAND: But you can see why.

ANNOUNCER: Oh my god, ooh!

HAND: Weather provides a flood of sensational footage often shot by amateurs for free. And weather comes with no legal representation or political affiliation. And that makes it an easy target, free of the risks that temper reporting on more controversial environmental issues. Program sponsors may pull funding from a story about a pollution problem at a local pulp mill, but nobody is going to protest a negative take on tornadoes.

ANNOUNCER: It is your ultimate nightmare - the world's strongest tornado on your doorstep.

HAND: We often demonize what we can't control. Weather is an unruly wilderness floating right over our heads. And unlike some wilderness we find under foot, the wilderness in weather is really wild.

[DIALOGUE FROM SCENE IN THE PERFECT STORM IN BACKGROUND]

ACTOR: Look, look at this. You got Hurricane Grace moving north off the Atlantic seaboard. Huge ...getting massive. . .

HAND: Bad weather is a magnet for melodrama, like this scene from The Perfect Storm. And it gathers up all the insecurities we have about being small creatures in a very big universe and it pushes that frailty right in our faces.

ACTOR: You could be a meteorologist all your life and never see something like this. It would be a disaster of epic proportions. It would be . . . the perfect storm.

[SOUND OF THUNDER].

HAND: We can move mountains. We can dam rivers. We can even clone sheep.

ACTOR: Let's get down below.

HAND: But we can't alter the genetic code of lightning. We can't pass a speed limit on hurricanes.

METEOROLOGIST: Oh my god. It's happening.

[SOUNDS OF THUNDER AND DRAMATIC MUSIC]

HAND: And with every wild storm, we wonder if this one, if this one is payback time, God's wrath fueled by global warming. Big storms, after all, are a Biblical tradition, a favored tool for retribution.

ACTOR: Make a big wave. Send it crashing down on us. Destroy us all if need be.

HAND: But scientists, when they can be heard over this stormy pandemonium, try to remind us that most storms do little lasting damage and the death and destruction they do cause is often heightened by our habit of building homes in the wrong places. Scientists say that weather has always been weird and that even the worst of it comes with big ecological benefits.

[MUSIC IN BACKGROUND]

ACTOR: Look at that. What? I've never seen the air so clear . . .

HAND: Weather reports along with the occasional big screen, bad weather films like Twister, The Day After Tomorrow and The Perfect Storm, seldom mention that storms do all kinds of ecological good, stirring up nutrients, recharging aquifers, cleansing the air, keeping the whole planet in atmospheric balance. TV news tightly focuses on the mudslides and floods, but runs off to some new disaster long before the wildflowers begin to bloom.

BACALL: Storm's passing.

BOGART: A torn shutter or two, some trash on the beach. In a few hours there will be little to remind you of what happened tonight.

[RAIN FALLING]

HAND: So, a few years ago I moved back to bad weather country, with a new found respect for dark clouds, hard wind and rain, especially rain.

[GOSPEL MUSIC]

SINGER: Open the floodgates of heaven, let it rain . . .

HAND: After suffering nearly a decade of blue skies and seeing what a natural disaster that can be, I think it's time to come to the defense of bad weather. It's time we accept bad weather as a vital natural resource, one we as a nation should be proud of.

SINGER: Let it rain . . .

HAND: We brag about the height of Denali and the depth of the Grand Canyon; why not the world's highest recorded winds and deepest snow? America holds those records and the planet's biggest one-minute rain, the most tornadoes and nearly its hottest temperatures. If we're going to take pride in America's wild landscapes, shouldn't we include the one above our heads?

SINGER: Let it rain . . .

HAND: And where would music be without all those meteorological metaphors?

[FULL CHORUS: OPEN THE FLOODGATES OF HEAVEN...]

HAND: For Living On Earth, I'm Guy Hand

[THUNDER]

HAND: Have a nice day.

CHORUS: Let it rain . . .

[CHORUS SINGING]

 

 

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