A thumb on the weather scale — reaction

Most of the listeners who responded to my debate with CBC manager Andrew Cochran about the network’s (in my view) inflated coverage of weather are just fine with the CBC’s weather treatment.

Highway conditions at 3:30 pm, February 20, when Cape Breton schools closed early due to forecasts of possible freezing rain that evening.
Highway conditions at 3:30 pm, February 20, when Cape Breton schools closed early due to forecasts of possible freezing rain that evening: Pavement dry; precipitation nil.

This doesn’t surprise me. Some people like being frightened about weather, just as others like being frightened about crime. Lurid coverage of crime by some media has led to a sharp increase in the public perception of personal risk from crime even as crime rates have plummeted. I see a parallel with public perception of weather risk.

Two listeners added interesting points to the debate.

Geoffrey May of Margaree said forecasts have become more extreme because weather has become more extreme—a result of climate change. Maybe Geoff can supply confirming data, but my subjective impression supports his view. Let me be clear, however: It’s not detailed reporting of occasional serious storms that I object to; It’s inflated reporting of routine storms, as if they were serious. What Oran sports reporter Bill Dunphy deliciously termed, “radio storms.”

Rosemary Algar of Cape North, a listener who shares my annoyance at weather hyperbole, pointed out a subtle result of our current timorous approach. We are teaching our children, she said, that at the first sign of inconvenience, it’s OK to stay home and disregard our responsibilities to work and school.

Worse still, it’s school officials who are delivering that message.

Putting a thumb on the weather scale

Kudos to Andrew Cochran, Maritimes Regional Director of the CBC, for agreeing to debate the network’s hyperventilated coverage of routine weather events. We hashed it out in an extended session this morning on CBC Cape Breton’s Information Morning program.

Longtime Contrarian readers know I think Nova Scotia has lost all perspective about weather, working ourselves into a lather over events we would have taken in stride 30 years ago.

The CBC is one link in this chain of timorousness. Environment Canada, which issues daily “statements,”  “advisories,” and “warnings” about routine weather inconveniences, is another.

School officials arbitrarily grant paid holidays to hundreds of public employees on grounds of child safety, with no data to show that school closures make anyone safer, and no consequences for the significant costs their needless caution imposes on society.

That’s my perspective. You can hear Andrew Cochran’s rebuttal in the debate below.

Confined to ship


CBC newsmen Rob Gordon and Craig Paisley left Halifax for Haiti aboard HMCS Athabaskan January 14, but returned home Friday without setting foot on the island.

It seems the journalists were confined to the warship because their required training for operating in dangerous environments was not up to date. Both men had received the five-day course, provided by U.K.-based AKE Integrated Risk Solutions, before traveling to Afghanistan several years ago, but their accreditation has expired.

As a result, CBC brass ordered the men not to leave the ship.

“It’s analogous to a driver’s licence,” said CBC’s Atlantic Regional Director Andrew Cochran. “If you go in without it, it’s like driving without a licence: (a) it’s an offence, and (b) your insurance won’t cover you.

A source told Contrarian that the problem was only discovered once the reporters were en route, and frantic efforts to get them the required refresher course by phone were unavailing.

Not so, says Cochran.

“We were completely aware of the situation before they left,” he said in a telephone interview. “We knew there would be CBC reporters covering events on the ground, The decision was that it was still worth sending them to cover the story of the navy sailors going in to help.”

Gordon is Canada’s most experienced reporter of naval issues.

Cochran acknowledged that there had been discussions of getting the refresher course en route, but this proved impossible.

Since arriving off the Haitian coast January 18, the two men have blogged about their experience and filed occasional dispatches from aboard ship. Paisley filed his final blog post Wednesday.