I need a personal forecaster

On Wednesday morning, I walked out my front door and took a glance at the sun trying to peek through a bank of clouds. The next thing I saw was the sidewalk rushing up to meet me.

Ice. Ice, baby.

The only thing more ironic would have been if I'd been going outside to collect that morning's Nevada Appeal, which carried the headline "ER busy with falls from icy conditions."

Thankfully, I wasn't one of the ER's visitors. But my shoulder is kind of sore, and my pride is wounded.

You see, I'd also written the editorial inside that day's paper urging people to shovel their walks and driveways and scolding the city for not clearing enough streets. So it was with some chagrin that I found myself sitting on my own sidewalk and contemplating the icy patch that put me there.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, my sidewalk is shoveled. I've lived too many years in snowbound territories to forget the advice: Shovel early, shovel often.

Nevertheless, the drip-drip from the eaves had turned overnight into a perfect sheet of ice on the front stoop. If I'd been watching my step rather than trying to admire a rather dismal sunrise, I might have saved myself some agony.

I don't know if you've seen the movie "The Day After Tomorrow," but I'd recommend waiting until warmer weather.

The movie is about global climate changes that produce huge superstorms, turning most of the northern hemisphere into an iceberg. Even on a nice day, it gives you a chill to watch people trudging through snow and shivering in their homes.

The heroes of the movie are weather forecasters. Dennis Quaid plays the role of a climatologist trying to warn the vice president, a Dick Cheney lookalike, of the impending doom in time to save millions of lives. Then Quaid starts across the frozen wasteland to save his son.

Things haven't been quite that bad around here since the Donner Party. Until people start eating each other, we can say it's been worse.

From tsunamis to snowstorms, it seems everybody's obsessed with the weather. The Weather Channel gets some 74 million viewers a week. It's important to our travel, our dress, our businesses and our recreation.

That's why, apparently, weather forecasters have become the stars of television newscasts.

Television stations invest huge sums in the latest radar equipment and flashy graphics, each trying to top the other to show viewers just how pinpoint is their storm center. Each of the Reno local stations has at least three weather forecasters on staff.

The evening newscasts have become Weather Central, especially with a big storm approaching like today. I watched KTVN Channel 2 the other evening, and Mike Algier went over the weather forecast in detail at the beginning, middle and end of the program. In between, the station had reporters in the field describing the conditions of the streets.

Of course the snow is big news these days, and the Appeal has done stories every day too. But my favorite moment came when a TV weather forecaster, in switching to a live shot to make the point that a cloud cover had moved in, offhandedly noted it was beginning to get dark outside.

To me, that casual comment summed up the fascination with watching weather on TV. Television has literally become our window on the world, so much so that it probably was news to a few people that the sun was beginning to set.

Sure, they could look out their own window - assuming they have one. But it's just easier to have somebody on television tell you it's getting dark outside.

Isn't that the whole idea behind pinpoint weather radars?

We get a view of the Pacific Ocean, with a giant weather system twisting its way toward the coastline. Then the radar pans down to show California and Nevada, so we can see just how that band of storms may or may not bring us rain, snow or something even more sinister.

From there, the radar narrows its focus to Northern Nevada, so we can tell whether the roads will be slippery between Reno and Carson City, or if the slopes will be fluffy around Lake Tahoe. Next it zooms down to local regions if there's some particularly interesting activity going on, like a shower over Gerlach.

The next logical progression, of course, is to keep closing in on neighborhoods, then blocks and finally to the street in front of my house. I could have my own personal weather radar, showing exactly the conditions I should expect when I walk out my front door.

In other words, somebody should have warned me that icy spot would be there Wednesday morning.

See? It wasn't my fault at all.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1221.


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