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A summer of storms

Published September 03. 2011 09:01AM

I would like to begin by wishing everyone a happy and hopefully rainless Labor Day weekend. It is hard to believe how crazy the summer has been with regards to weather. The unofficial American start to summer was Memorial Day. Three days later the Panther Valley got hammered with hail that was of a size never seen before in Pennsylvania. Even meteorologists remarked how such large hail usually only appears in the midwest.

Unofficial measurements indicated those chunks of ice were as large as three inches in some cases. They plunged to earth at speeds up to 70 miles per hour wreaking havoc upon impact. One friend of mine, Chet, told me he was in the process of flipping his glass topped table over onto the deck in an effort to save it when it was shattered by one of those icy rockets. People attending graduation ceremonies in the area had no idea until they left the buildings that the storm even occurred. Their first clue was looking at the rows of smashed windshields and back windows in the parking lots.

Another friend told me of attending the Panther Valley School Board meeting and watching helplessly from the inside as the hailstorm literally totaled cars in the parking lot. Besides cars, hundreds of homes received some degree of damage from this vicious icy storm. True to form, within 24 hours there were signs everywhere soliciting business from roofing companies both reputable and questionable. While it was a rotten summer start for those who were affected, it was a stimulus to the contractors and body shops who have had plenty of business.

The same storm that spawned the hail maelstrom also set off a round of tornadoes throughout the coverage area in volumes large enough to make one take notice. While it is a misnomer that eastern Pennsylvania is too mountainous for tornadoes, it has been the case that they were quite rare, but not this year. Within a two week period, several small twisters touched down throughout eastern PA giving people new respect for this weather phenomena's appearance in the state.

After the tumultuous start we settled into the second summer that seemed to have record breaking heat waves. The tropical humid hot weather made the beach a welcome location for relaxation through July which was rather dry compared to August. Once the dog days of August arrived so did the rain. We went from a dry July to a record setting wet August. Of course just being a wet August wasn't enough. That would have been too ordinary so we received some wild cards to make August 2011 more memorable.

Within the last week parts of our area had a hailstorm followed two days later by an earthquake that surprised and shook up the entire East Coast of the United States including our area of Pennsylvania. Of course if you were outside or in a car you probably missed the whole thing. This was only a prelude though for Hurricane Irene hyped to be some kind of storm of the century bearing down directly on the east coast with the potential to be as powerful as a Category Three storm.

Of course the prelude to the storm was typical of the hype that passes for news today. When it arrived it was large and it was dangerous but in the end it was no worse than the typical hurricane that has hit this coast several times before this year. In our area it caused quite a bit of damage but whether it was in a category by itself remains to be seen. I think we will find in retrospect it was quite bad but overall it was not a "storm of the century".

The problem is television news has evolved from providing information into a medium for news entertainment where they feel the news has to be built up and hyped in order to sustain good ratings. It seems this drive for ratings makes them push the envelope. Do they lie? No, I don't think they do. Instead they seem to be more like the doctor who feels the need to give us the worst case scenario so that any other outcome seems more positive than what we expected.

I think such over-the-top reporting on such natural phenomena could have an undesirable consequence in that it could make television journalists the equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. If you remember the tale, a young shepherd boy was bored one day so he ran into town and claimed a wolf was terrorizing his sheep. The villagers gathered with pitchforks to kill the vile beast and headed toward the hills but when they got there, the wolf was gone. The boy enjoyed the prank so much that he played it again a few days later. The second time seemed more fun than the first and this continued until the villagers realized the boy was lying to them.

The final time the boy attempted his prank the villagers stormed away in disgust. The next day the shepherd boy was sitting on the hills with his flock when he heard a panicked bleat. There among the sheep was a large vicious wolf tearing into the docile creatures. He ran in terror toward the village but when he got there no one paid attention because he had lied so many times before that day. In the end, all the sheep were killed and the shepherd boy was never trusted again.

This same conditioning occurs each time a storm is hyped up by weather people and news casters. We become less interested in what they say and the danger is that one day we won't listen and many of us will suffer from a terrible weather surprise because we didn't believe them. Hopefully they realize this hazard before it's too late.

Til next time …

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