Humor: On TV, Lili ends up being a 'hot air' event : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread

OK, weather folks, take a deep, cleansing breath


By Dave Walker Staff writer/The Times-Picayune

As Hurricane Lili approached the Louisiana coast, various people noted it would be a "wind event" as opposed to an Isidore-style "rain event."

If you were lucky, Lili turned out to be just a TV event.

It was for me. Yes, I am aware the TV news organizations that covered this storm serve huge viewership areas in which many people suffer devastating losses when big storms hit land.

But they also serve me, and for every viewer with eyes glued to the eye of the storm, that's what TV hurricane coverage is all about: me and my house.

Because it hits so much closer to home than most everything else they cover, heavy weather coverage requires broadcast news organizations to muster all the gravity and calm and accuracy they can manage. Mostly calm.

WWL-Channel 4 came closest to fulfilling this obligation (special kudos to Dave McNamara and videographer Brian Lukas for their work during both Isidore and Lili), but the overall impression viewers in the New Orleans got from storm coverage Wednesday night and Thursday morning was a lot of unnecessary hysteria (special scorn to WWL AM-870 for the reckless "hurricane-force wind in New Orleans" false-alarm forecast Wednesday afternoon). The long-term implications of overheated storm coverage are ominous.

Will metro viewers who have grown inured to broadcast hyperbole respond when the threat is greater than a "wind event?"

Let's hope we never find out.

Minute by minute, here's what this non-evacuating Lili-tracker found out by staying glued to the tube:

-- 5:31 p.m. Wednesday -- Flip on "CBS Evening News" to see Dan Rather standing on the Moonwalk. "Greetings from the hurricane strike zone," he says. Fight back involuntary evacuation of bladder.

-- 5:50 p.m. -- Shudder at WWL local news promo calling Lili "most powerful storm in 45 years."

-- 6:03 p.m. -- Exhale for first time in four minutes when Bruce Katz of WGNO-Channel 26 says, "This storm is not coming to New Orleans. It is not going to happen."

-- 7 p.m. -- Flip to WDSU-Channel 6, where Dan Milham reports storm center's apparent northward jog. Wobble seemingly places storm on collision course with my house. Too late to evacuate.

-- 7:30 p.m. -- Note odd spilt-screen approach of WVUE-Channel 8, which is shrinking Angels-Yankees baseball playoff game to tiny box while sticking with hurricane stuff in larger window. Wonder who I'd call to complain if I cared about ballgame outcome.

-- 8:06 p.m. -- WVUE's Bob Breck reassures me that Lili won't jog over my house.

-- 8:32 p.m. -- Flip to WDSU, where Milham reads pointed National Weather Service statement discounting doomsday northward jog. Lili not headed for my house after all.

-- 9:25 p.m. -- As WVUE anchors take turns reading Thursday school closings, I empathize briefly with the handful of local baseball fans who are no doubt growing more irritated with split-screen gambit.

-- 9:29 p.m. -- Breck issues studio telephone number and essentially deputizes viewers to call in local weather conditions, which inadvertently provides baseball fans with an outlet for their wrath.

-- 9:31 p.m. -- Milham shows tower-cam shot of outbound traffic jam, perhaps sparked by earlier premature fuss over storm's northward jog. "I don't think evacuation is called for, at this moment at least," he says.

-- 9:36 p.m. -- WVUE's Jeff Baskin releases latest storm coordinates, which seem to reinforce possibility of continued northward jog. "We don't like those numbers," he says.

-- 9:59 p.m. -- Carl Arredondo of WWL-Channel 4 issues a comforting "tease" for 10 p.m. newscast in which possible Lili track-change is slyly hinted at. (Comforting? If things were really ominous, TV stations wouldn't be banging a tub outside the carny tent. Would they?)

-- 10 p.m. -- Comforting Powerball announcement precedes WWL news. (Comforting? See 9:59 p.m.)

-- 10:10 p.m. -- An increasingly dyspeptic Breck scolds viewers for clogging precipitation tip line with baseball beefs. "When it's life, when it's property, baseball doesn't seem that important," he says.

-- 10:15 p.m. -- Check favorite weather-geek Web site ( for latest storm coordinates and computer models. Convince myself that Lili track is holding steady on someone else's house. Retire for night.

-- Thursday, sometime during the 4 a.m. hour -- Awaken to find power still on, house still standing. Resist temptation to check Weather Channel for news about next home-wrecker in tropical pipeline. Fall back asleep.

-- 8:30 a.m. -- Awaken again to watch Arredondo flipping through a series of baffling graphics evidently showing storm-tracking radar, total rainfall amounts, wind speed and who knows what else. Colorful maps remind me of Hawaiian shirt I once owned. Shirt was about as helpful in deciphering storm status.

-- 8:55 a.m. -- Flip to WVUE, which is reporting that 100,000 people are without power.

-- 8:56 a.m. -- Make that 100,001.

-- 9:20 a.m. -- Power restored. Somebody on TV notes our good fortune in Lili's downgrade from a four to a deuce and advises that the best plan for Thursday is to stay home and watch TV. I concur.

-- 9:30 a.m. -- Grow ever more fascinated by alternating bands of storms and weather breaks flowing over house. Fascinated and grateful, because our dog won't go outside -- and all that implies -- in the rain.

-- 9:42 a.m. -- Check overnight ratings for viewer verdict on WVUE's baseball-squeezing gamble. Tuesday WVUE rating for Angels-Yankees game: 5.6. Rating for WVUE during Lili-baseball split-screen coverage in same time period Wednesday: 13.5. (A local rating point represents about 3,600 households.) Monday rating for WVUE "Seinfeld" rerun at 10 p.m.: 4.9. Wednesday WVUE rating for storm coverage at 10 p.m.: 23.1, the same as market-dominant WWL, a landmark achievement for underachieving WVUE. Bottom line: Though WVUE fielded complaints Wednesday night from many no doubt courteous and patient sports fans, the final line score supports the station's decision to throw the splitter.

-- 12:02 p.m. -- Flip to WWL mid-day newscast just in time to see that incredible home video of an oak tree falling on some poor guy's house in New Iberia.

-- 12:12 p.m. -- Count lucky stars. Reach for clicker. For the sake of mental well-being, begin indefinite self-imposed meteorological blackout.

. .

-- Anonymous, October 04, 2002

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