Features & Stories

Story and photo by Trudy Frisk

“I’d shoot the TV, “ stated my sister, “if I wasn’t afraid of the flying glass!”

She was reacting to the nightly weather report and, she’s not alone. Every day British Columbians are yelling insults at their TVs, unfortunately unheard by the happy-smiley weather reporters.

In our permissive society, where almost any variant of sex, violence or political malfeasance is allowed on TV, there are still some forbidden words.  They are, ‘clouds’, ‘showers’, ‘precipitation’, and ‘cool’.  Once these were considered part of normal weather.  When did that change?  When did the forecaster’s obsession with hot, sunny weather begin?  These people don’t ‘report’ the weather; they cheer for their favourite.
Any possibility of cloud or rain is deprecated. When did the only good day become a sunny day?

“Well, it’s another bright, beautiful day.  Temperatures will be in the high 30’s.” chortles the weather person.  Residents of Anywhere Outside Vancouver, getting their valuables together ready for evacuation from a wildfire, counting the lightening strikes on the deadly dry terrain, suffering in their smoke-choked valleys, listening to the thrum of helicopters carrying water to douse yet another fire, trying desperately to find enough feed to get their herds through the winter, have stopped watching the ‘weather report’  (any weather report), in bewilderment, and begun gritting their teeth in fury. 

It may be news to the boys and girls in TV-land but the chipper, cheerleader weather person is rapidly becoming the most reviled character in the media.

Part of the problem is the rural/urban disconnect.  Food, ask any weather forecaster, comes from the grocery store.  Electricity comes from a socket in the wall. Water flows  from a faucet. What happens outside Vancouver and the lower mainland can’t possibly affect urban dwellers.

This summer the B.C. Interior has had one mm of rain instead of the usual 30mm.  Rivers are dwindling, streams and stock ponds are dry.  There’s drought on the prairies. Hay is in short supply and the price is so high rumour has it that Somali pirates are considering expanding their activities and seizing hay trucks for ransom.  Some farmers and ranchers may have to sell their entire herds, because they can’t get enough food to carry them for the winter. “So?” shrugs the weather forecaster. “Food will automatically appear.”  Meanwhile, “It’s another lovely day on the prairies!”
Then there’s electricity.  In B.C. electricity is generated from running water.  (That’s why it’s called B.C. Hydro)  Glaciers which feed the rivers are disappearing; more rain is needed to power the turbines. Otherwise some of those hot. dry, sunny days might lead to brown-outs in Vancouver as residents turn on their air conditioners.
That brings us to water. Until the big city invests in a solar-powered salt water desalinization plant, it relies on rain falling on rivers flowing into the city for its growing water needs.  Shouldn’t a weather forecaster know this? 
Where do these people train? Brigadoon?  That’s the mythical never-land where the real world intrudes only once a year.  The real world intruded for a few days in the summer of 2009, during wild fires in Kelowna, Lillooet and other interior towns.  Vancouver weather people actually commented on the need for rain and lower temperatures, but viewers could tell it took an effort and it didn’t last long.  

Mind you there were a few moments of genuine fear (“It could affect us!”) when they realized that the fire burning near Seton Portage. (“Where?”), threatened a hydro line that was one of the main sources of power to Vancouver.  “Not to worry,” replied B.C. Hydro. “We have a back-up plan.”  Then someone set four fires in Stanley Park.  “Danger, danger!”  Now, I love Stanley Park and don’t want it harmed.  I used to love Vancouver.  The weather forecasters are changing all that.  

Wild Fire
“Insensitive” is the mildest term I’ve heard use to describe weather reports given at a time when two thousand wild fires were burning across B.C. and one hundred and fifty new ones starting each day.  Thousands of people were evacuated, leaving behind their homes and animals.  Bella Coola residents were planning how to escape by boat since the only highway out of town was closed by fire. All across B.C.,  homes and business were threatened, and livestock in danger. A mill in Kelowna was saved from burning only by the determined action of its employees.  Its owners lost their homes. 

There have been more wild fires in B.C. this summer than in the infamous summer of 2003. The province is covered with pine trees killed by the mountain pine beetle, now augmented by fir and spruce, victims of spruce budworm and tussock moth. And, the weather reporter’s chirpy, toothy comment? “It’s going to be another day of glorious sunshine!”

How reassuring to worried British Columbians facing fire threats and to the hundreds of fire fighters, some from as far away as Australia, who’d come to help.  Do you suppose that, in Australia, during the horrible bush fires, some smiling weather person announces, “Yes, it’s going to be a fabulous day on Bondi beach?”  I think Aussies might have something to say about that.

What could be more uplifting to the town of Tofino, which has barely enough water for its own consumption, let alone tourists’ needs, than being assured by the weather person that “There’ll be a few clouds in the morning but don’t worry.  They’ll be all gone by afternoon and you’ll be back up to 38 degrees.”  No,’ insensitive’ doesn’t begin to describe it.

The only ‘reporting’ on the serious long-term result of lack of rain comes when people or their homes are directly threatened.  There is never a mention of the on going drought that makes the fires so dangerous.  Nor does the public learn what the drought does to ecology in general, just as they aren’t told that wild fires, unless they affect people, are generally left to burn. There aren’t enough resources to put them out.  Think of the effect on wildlife.   

Not only do weather people seem unaware of the consequences of hot, dry weather in rural Western Canada, they don’t appear to have heard any global news for decades.  (Maybe they’re not allowed to listen to the regular news?)

How else to explain a recent announcement that “Iqaluit is basking in twenty-eight degree weather!” Basking?  Basking??  Global warming has been a major part of global
public discussion for more than twenty years. Weather reporters must be the only Canadians who don’t know about polar bears losing habitat because of sea ice melting.  Whatever our thoughts on the causes of global warming, or ‘climate change’ as it’s now being called, it certainly has been front and center in all forms of media.

People bleed at their ears if David Suzuki shows them a photo of sad polar bears wandering the rocky shores near Churchill, MB., staring forlornly out to sea where the seals they depend on for food are swimming. Canadians are riding bicycles, eating locally, switching to fluorescent light bulbs, all to cut down their ‘carbon footprint’.  How did weather forecasters miss all this?  Are they exempt from B.C.’s ‘carbon tax’?  One wonders.

Of course the northern sea ice is melting, the resulting rise in ocean levels threatening to flood coastal cities –maybe even as far inland as TV stations.

 Ocean temperatures are increasing.  Why should anyone care?  This year more than nine million sockeye salmon didn’t return to the Fraser River to spawn. There are probably several causes but increased water temperature, in the ocean and the rivers, must be included. While an ancient salmon run, mainstay of aboriginal life along the Fraser and its northern tributaries, vanishes, new, intrusive species appear.  One hundred and fifty giant Humboldt squid, natives of waters far south, washed up on Graham Island in the Queen Charlottes on August 17th.  The week before dozens of them were found on Chesterman’s Beach, near Tofino.                  

“What difference does it make?” people ask when I rail about weather reporter’s obvious bias for hot dry days. “It’s only the weather!”  Could there be a more damning comment?
Only the weather! Weather affects our lives in every way, even if we don’t realize it.

TV is an education.  It teaches the people who watch it what is valued by society and what is not.  The message is that recreational opportunities for some urban dwellers are more important than threats to homes and livelihood for rural British Columbians.” It is an affront to anyone who has any basic understanding of what happens when the pavement stops.”, says my sister.

The current system of weather ‘reporting’ directly contradicts not only people’s experience but also the messages from regular news.  It’s a report from an artificial world.

British Columbians, being hardy, skeptical, individuals, have come to their own conclusions.  “It’s just like Armageddon!” announced a usually calm person as she and I stood on the steps of an office building at closing time preparing to venture forth into the wall of heat and smoke.  “Isn’t the end predicted to come with fire?”. “ And water”, she added with a nod to our fellow Canadians back east.  I couldn’t contradict her. 

My sister, who meets many people daily, says weather is the dominant topic. People are doing what they can.  When she mentioned to a local minister “I’m probably an agnostic, but, if you would consider praying for rain, I’d appreciate it.”, he replied, “I’ve been praying for rain for the last four days.” 

Later that day a First Nations fellow confided to her, “You may scoff, but, when I get home, I’m going to do a rain dance!”  “I’ve believed in stranger things. It’s as good as anything else.  If you think it will work, do it; nothing else has worked.  We need all the help we can get. “ she told him.

Meanwhile, wherever one or two are gathered together, they agree in outrage about the ‘weather reports’. Is there a future for ‘weather reporters’? Or, are they irrelevant anachronisms? 

Certainly the current format unites British Columbians beyond Surrey.  That unity comes with a high price in stress and exacerbates urban/rural tensions, when what we need is understanding. Is understanding possible?  Most of us in the rest of B.C. have water restrictions. We’re familiar with power outages from storms and wild fires. Maybe, since their food, water and electricity come from outside the city, weather reporters could agree to voluntary restrictions for several hours a day. If they shared the pain, they might understand.

Or, next time there’s an evacuation order, weather forecasters could be ordered to participate. Helping round up stock, coaxing terrified horses into trailers in the middle of the night and driving them miles to refuge, might give a new slant to their next report. If they refuse to leave the city, they can scurry round their condos at midnight searching for important legal documents and carry them to their offices next day to have them safe in case the roads are closed because of fire and they can’t get back home. It’s worth a try.

Failing that, could they just report? No cheering for sunshine, no smiling for hot or frowning for cool. After all, regular reporters don’t openly advocate for some individuals or companies when they read the daily news.

 If that doesn’t happen, there are several options.  TV stations might just show us the numbers.  They’re on the screen anyhow, right beside the weather people. We can read a five-day forecast and we’re pretty good at interpreting a weather map. Cutting out the commentary could save the stations thousands of viewers. And the forecaster’s salaries.

If not, well there’s simpler technology.  Who remembers the little ‘weather houses’?  These individual weather stations were popular years ago. They operated on humidity. In one door of the little house was an old witch; in the other were Hansel and Gretel.  If the weather was going to be fine, Hansel and Gretel came out.  If not, the witch appeared.  One can argue that equating the witch with rain reinforced negative stereotypes, but at least we were spared annoying comments.

Or, we could go further back in human history.  A colleague and I were discussing weather forecasting recently.  He’s a golfer; he takes a keen interest.  We could, I suggested, bring back the ancient custom of killing a chicken and reading its entrails to foretell the weather.  He thought for a long moment before responding: “And, you can eat the chicken.  You can’t do that with a weather man!”

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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