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Severe weather warnings: Understandable, but costly for businesses

At the start of his 6 p.m. newscast Sunday, WKBW-TV (Channel 7) meteorologist Don Paul gave himself a new nickname and addressed his popularity during the current climate in Western New York.

"Yes, Mr. Happy is here," said Paul. "The guy you would like to get your hands on. Some rational people are ticked off. I see it on Facebook."

At the end of the same newscast, Channel 7 anchor Lia Lando placed her hands close to Paul's neck and pretended to choke him.

"Just kidding by the way," said Lando.

It was all in good fun.

It wasn't entirely clear if Paul was just addressing the awful April weather that has postponed spring, or his forecast of the weekend ice event that wasn't as devastating as expected.

I'm sure Paul wasn't the only local meteorologist getting hate email over the weekend.

The amount of time that TV news devotes to weather is laughable.

While Paul was giving himself a new nickname, WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) devoted eight minutes at the top of its 6 p.m. news Sunday to "Team Coverage" of the ice event and predictions of possible flooding today. Later in the newscast, meteorologist Heather Waldman spent four minutes delivering her forecast. The combined 12 minutes is about 60 percent of the time in a newscast for news, weather and sports.

The most laughable moment came when Channel 2 ran a graphic that noted one local power company was dealing with zero outages and the other had 60 homes without power because of the ice event.

Meteorology is an inexact science and I sympathize with those practicing it locally.

Paul and the other weathercasters are in a difficult position when forecasting what look to be dangerous situations. They have to warn people that things can be bad. But those warnings can be so scary that they can have devastating impact on businesses and events.

I have successfully ignored two weather warnings this winter and early spring with some anxiety.

During the winter, I almost didn't go to a Syracuse basketball game because a severe snowstorm was predicted. Driving down the Thruway, I feared I was making a mistake.

The snow never happened. Syracuse played lousy and lost – but that's a different issue.

Then this past Saturday night, the ice event made me question my sanity before heading for Trimania against my better judgment.

As a precaution, I drove five miles down Main Street, which I considered the safest route. It was a mess. But it was a manageable mess.

I suspect there were other more dangerous areas in Western New York where the warning was more appreciated.

But as I drove down Main Street, I started thinking about all the restaurants that lost customers, all the stores that closed early and all the churches that announced on Saturday night that they were closed Sunday morning because of the scary warnings.

I also started thinking about what happens the next time a big weather event is predicted by Mr. Happy and others.

Will the third time be "crying wolf?"

Will I foolishly venture out and get stuck in a predicted storm because I've grown tired of TV news predicting disaster?

Whether I go or stay home, the decision will be on me.

But if the storm comes or if it is another dud, one thing is certain: I'm not going to be happy with Mr. Happy.


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