It’s winter. And the Lizard of Fun is lamenting the loss of its party companion, because it knows the terrible truth. The moment the snow starts falling, the wind starts blowing or the waters start rising, I turn into a weather report zombie.
Nothing — not a Florida vacation (assuming I could get to the airport) or a mountain of chocolate-covered ants (fun, says the Lizard) can rouse me from my compulsive need to wallow in a constant stream of weather reports.
And last week’s tremendous, momentous, astounding snowfall (No, wait, "snow storm." Or was it "blizzard?") was no exception. There I sat, in front of the tube, as mesmerized as a toddler watching "Teletubbies."
"Again! Again!" I cried, flipping between television weather reports (snow and more snow) and radio weather updates (it’s still snowing!). I got on the Web and surfed to my favorite weather sites (snow predicted, more to follow).
I even — in that unpredictable and reckless way the Lizard of Fun has grown to expect, and which gave it a momentary flash of hope — actually poked my head out the front door to see for myself.
It doesn’t really matter what the weather is. Heavy rain, thunderstorm, tornado, I’m still checking every available media outlet.
What do I think, I might catch them contradicting each other? (Hey, Channel 4 is predicting snow to start in half an hour but Channel 2 says it’s snowing now! Score one for me!)
Or, more to the point, am I simply incapable of believing that it really is snowing until I’ve seen it for myself on every channel I can get with rabbit ears (nope, no cable — you can imagine the wreck of my already uninspiring social life if I had unlimited access to the Weather Channel).
It’s your Canadian heritage, suggests the Lizard of Fun, stifling a yawn. Perhaps. My True North ancestors made the weather their national topic of conversation ("Hey, Jean-Luc, you think it’s gonna snow again this month?" — "Naah, Jean-Pierre, it’s almost July. We’ll probably get hail."). Maybe the Old Farmer’s Almanac is hard-wired into my DNA. But that can’t account for every other weather report zombie I’ve met, and believe me, there’s more of us than a snowball has snowflakes. ("Hey, you said flakes, not me," says the Lizard of Fun.) But why else would the Weather Channel exist?
Anyway, like weather report zombies worldwide, I devour television pictures of cold fronts and isobars, satellite images and live, eyewitness reports from deep in the depths of a snowbank.
"This is boring," says the Lizard of Fun. "When do we get to go sledding?"
"Sssshhhh!" I say. "They’re about to go over the long range forecast again!"
Eventually, since the content of all the weather reports is pretty much the same (Hey, it’s snowing. Hey, the airport is closed. Hey, the roads are slippery. Did we mention it’s snowing?), I start to compare the coverage.
Radio, alas, is at a distinct disadvantage. WWJ, for example, seems to take two full cycles of eights just to get through all the updated school closings. ("Why don’t they just say which ones are open?" asks the Lizard of Fun. "Because this gives them 20 whole minutes where they don’t have to talk about the fact that it’s still snowing.")
Television, on the other hand, can get more graphic. Some stations get funky with clever multitasking (they run the school closings across the bottom of the screen, leaving more time for the anchors to talk about the fact it’s snowing) and entertaining icons, such as those crashed cars on Fox 2’s morning map of the metro area. I especially like the way they animate the icons, with steam (smoke?) or little lines (presumably meant to indicate, cartoonlike, the anger of the drivers) beaming out of the cars.
I keep score on all the stories television stations manage to spin out of the weather report. Two points for the Channel 4 reporter who started getting undressed to demonstrate how to layer clothing. And two points, too, to the enterprising reporter who noticed that some grocery stores — like many metro area residents — were beginning to run low on groceries due to the weather.
But best of all are the captions assigned to people who get interviewed on TV. It’s sad to think about the guy who used up two of his 15 minutes of fame as "Using a shovel." (Better, I suppose, than "Stuck at Airport," who was in Detroit against her will. One of the airline passenger’s rings of hell, indeed.)
The Lizard of Fun, being a cold-blooded creature, gives me the evil eyeball as it flips through a Mexico tourism brochure. "Explain, or I’m booking a one-way ticket to Oaxaca."
I could look to my northern ancestors for the answer: Weather creates community. When else can you schmooze with the green-haired, pit bull-breeding guy next door except when you’re both serving sips of antifreeze to your chilled-out Chevvies at six o’clock on a bitterly cold morning? ("Say, didja see the weather report? It’s cold out.")
Or maybe there’s a more selfish reason. Because if nothing else, watching a weather report confirms that I’m indoors, planted firmly on my sofa watching a weather report, and not "Using a Shovel," "Stuck at Airport," "Frozen Out of Car" or "Upside Down in Snowdrift."
And now it’s time again for the long-range forecast. Shhh.