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Stations’ snow coverage is more annoying than helpful

Channel 2 asked on Twitter on Monday afternoon if anyone had any questions for weathercaster Kevin O’Connell about the snow heading our way.

I couldn’t resist.

“When is it going to stop?” I tweeted back. “Not the weather. The coverage of snow coming to a neighborhood near you.”

My joke got bipartisan support: It was “liked” by Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, a Democrat, and Chris Grant, the former chief of staff for Republican Congressman Chris Collins.

We might not agree on health care, gun laws and abortion, but almost everyone can agree that local TV stations have gone too far in covering the weather. And there apparently is no end in sight.

On Feb. 12, Channel 4 carried an unscheduled, hourlong newscast at 4 p.m. because it was – “breaking news” – snowing and turning rush hour into a nightmare for drivers in whiteout areas.

I know it is serious, scary stuff to drive through whiteouts, but local TV news seems to think we are all idiots and despite living in Western New York don’t realize we have to slow down or how to handle anything when it snows.

I couldn’t resist sending out several tweets during Channel 4’s alarmist newscast.

Here are my five best, all with the lead-in of “Breaking News”:

• “Maple Rd. has snow and people driving slowly. But they always do on Maple Rd.”

• “If you are stuck in your car, Ch.4’s advice to keep your blood flowing won’t help because you are stuck in your car without a TV.”

• “Ch. 4 reporter says ‘I don’t know if you can tell how strong the wind is at Canalside.’ Funny the wind doesn’t come through my TV.”

• “Ch. 4 has another 90 minutes to tell us it is snowing and cold and people have driven into ditches.”

• “Angola senior says ‘roads aren’t that bad,’ which is opposite Ch. 4 narrative for last hour.”

Of course, TV news carries so much weather because they claim it helps ratings. The rating for Channel 4’s special 4 p.m. news offered encouraging news to viewers who think there is too much weather.

At 4 p.m., when Channel 4 viewers probably thought “Inside Edition” was going to be carried as scheduled, the station had a 4.8 rating. At 4:15 p.m., 40 percent of the audience left and Channel 4 had a 2.9 rating. However, the rating rose to 6.2 by 4:45 p.m., possibly because many viewers thought “Jeopardy!” was going to air as scheduled and not because they felt in jeopardy because it snowed.

I try not to give in to the fear and frequently ignore the narrative that it isn’t safe to live your life. That’s why a friend and I drove to Syracuse on Feb. 11, to watch my alma mater play Florida State in a basketball game. The ride down was a piece of cake and, except for about 20 minutes leaving Syracuse after the game in the snow, we didn’t have any problem.

The trip home after a Syracuse victory before a crowd of 22,000 took about two hours and 40 minutes. It was a win-win.

After the game, noted humorist, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, turned media critic. In his post-game conference, Boeheim channeled every Western New Yorker tired of all the time a little snow gets on newscasts these days.

“I laugh when they start predicting it’s gonna be awful and there is gonna be 8 inches of snow,” said Boeheim of Syracuse newscasts. “That’s nothing! It used to be nothing. They didn’t even used to report that. … Are the weathercasters – are they all from the south now?

“My wife is from the south, I said, ‘How are the roads outside?’ She said ‘They’re fine.’ Her sister is from Alabama – she didn’t want to go out of the house! Come on, it’s just a nice day in Syracuse. Come on, our fans are going to come as long as we play good basketball.”

I would think that many store owners and restaurants aren’t as fortunate as Syracuse basketball and that the TV forecasts cost them big time.

A friend of mine, Jeff Zimmer, owner of Reeds Jewelers, told me that he lost a substantial amount of business on the Friday night before Valentine’s Day because people were frightened by the weather coverage even though the roads were clear. The owner of a prominent Buffalo restaurant told me he lost a lot of customers on the same night, even though the snow stopped in front of his restaurant at 6 p.m.

Those two businessmen got me thinking about how we might be able to end all of this snow panic.

Advertisers traditionally have been TV’s censors when it comes to language and content. If they pull out because they are repulsed by the content, shows can’t make enough money to survive.

We need business owners to save us. We need them to tell every station to pull their advertising on any newscast that spends so much time on weather that it frightens people unnecessarily and keeps them inside. After all, why would business owners want to advertise on a newscast that exaggerates weather problems so much that few viewers will want to come to their store or restaurant?

The idea might be a little hard to police since the businesses and the news departments might differ on what is too much weather.

But it is like the Supreme Court definition of pornography. We know it when we see it.

And we see it all the time now.