Times Are a-Changin': The age of the 'weather bomb'

10:57 am on 31 May 2018

By David Cohen*, Contributor

Opinion - It's May and the start of winter (sort of) and this means that over the next few months there will be wet and cold spells. There may also be a spot of snow from time to time.

Snow on the Crown Range.

Snow on the Crown Range this week. Photo: Twitter / @QueenstownLakes

We may even be in for a rocky week ahead.

It's all a bit boring, really - so boring that few news outlets these chilly days report the weather this way.

Gone is the era when consumers wanting to know anything more than the temperature had to make do with studying a weather chart usually located well to the back of a newspaper.

Other than the occasional over-excited feature writer waxing lyrical, say, about the crystalline vision and bouncing clouds of a Canterbury nor'wester, it was all climatic business as usual.

No more.

Bob Dylan famously told us that you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Dylan, who turned 77 this past week, is clearly getting on. The meteorological times they are a-changin'.

We live in the media age of the wicked weather bomb and polar blast, once-in-a-generation storms - "perfect storms" yet - that batter, damage and explode, even as snowdrifts dump vast amounts of the "white stuff" on the mountains as the "mercury plummets".

Interactive maps show winds and rain moving across pulsing maps like so many missiles being fired in a war in the Middle East (where the temperature is usually hot, by the way) and explanatory colours bump and grind like pinball lights.

Typically, news of the latest weather bomb is served with scattered clouds of kaleidoscopic commentary by experts roped in to tell viewers and readers how to prepare for the latest apocalyptic deluge.

Still, New Zealand has at least been spared - so far - reports claiming that the next storm could see major cities experiencing temperatures "colder than Mars".

Nor has any local pundit yet been brave enough to warn of a 'bomb cyclone'.

"Too often," Martin Kettle writes in an icy opinion piece in the Guardian, "weather bulletins these days are delivered amid something close to hysteria. The Met Office acts increasingly as though [the country] is facing an invasion. There are far more weather warnings than terrorism warnings. The default setting is now melodrama, danger and sometimes even panic."

Climate change may have something to do with it, he suggests, but media ratings and social media optics have their role too, he suggests.

He hopes the more flamboyant forecasters will learn to chill out and journalists will refrain from using their work computers to access weather porn.

In a calmer news world, adds one stateside critic of the trend, sensationalised weather terms might be a welcome diversion. "However, this is not a good time for theatrics, especially when we have a president who casually tweets about dropping much more devastating bombs on foreign nations."

For now, the outlook is grim.

Might it not be time to get used to the fact that cold weather is highly possible in New Zealand during the weeks ahead, and that keeping a stiff, albeit cold, upper lip about it might just be the caper?

Just a thought.

Have a nice day - and stay warm.

* David Cohen is a journalist and author based in windy Wellington.