Rick's Space: ‘Feels like’ temperatures threaten weather forecasts

Fake News

One of my pet peeves in life is the Wind Chill Factor. We’ve all heard the weatherman’s dire forecast: “It feels like it’s 22 degrees below zero.”

No, it doesn’t. And I’m going to tell you why.

Back in the day, it was a sort of whimsical, nonsensical nod to the winter, a way for weathermen to spice up the forecast. They know, of course, that ratings are highest when there is bad weather coming, so they can’t help but embellish.

The poster child in my day was WLNG radio in Sag Harbor. I lived right down the street from Redwood Causeway. One weekend, when I was eight or so, I went out to Sag Harbor from Brooklyn and I was shooting hoops in Bobby Vacca’s backyard. I saw the giant transmission tower lurking overhead in the night sky.

“What the hell is that?” I asked.

“I dunno,” he replied nonchalantly. How could anyone NOT KNOW it was there? That was around 1958. The thing continued to operate in oblivion until, one day, there was a hurricane. WLNG was the only station that came in, and Paul Sidney spent the next week, without sleep, helping citizens cope with the disaster. “The Mobil station just opened, and they have about 200 gallons of gas they are selling,” he’d bellow. “Dick Johnson has his chainsaw at the ready if you need him!” “We just heard word from LIPA that power will be restored by Thursday!” “Barry’s hardware still has a few gas generators left for sale, so hurry!”

For the next 40 years, if the temperature dipped below 60 or a tropical storm formed near Tanzania, Paul would hit the airwaves. “I’ll be here 24-7 to help you get through this storm of the century! Keep your dial tuned to WLNG for weather updates! Then, of course, Barry’s, Dick Johnson, the hardware store, and the rest would have paid ads come on the air. That’s how the game was played.

So, here’s what I heard from the Channel 7 guy Wednesday evening. “It will start off chilly with occasional gusting snow tonight, but by morning, the cold air will roll in. The frigid cold temperature will make it seem like it is 13 below zero!”

A map then appeared on the screen with the wind chill numbers — not the real temperature. “Wow,” Karen said. It’s minus 13!” No, it wasn’t.

Temperature is an absolute. It’s measurable. When we say it is 30 degrees out, we can check a thermometer to verify it.

Of course, that’s assuming the measurement itself is on the up and up. When I was a little kid, I used to manipulate the oral thermometer to get a day off from school. I’d tell my mother I didn’t feel good while she was getting ready to go to work and she would stick the thermometer in my mouth. I’d run it under hot water and just as she was leaving I’d run out and say, “Ma. Ma! I’m sick!” She would, of course, tell me to stay home.

Once I tried it with my father. That didn’t work out so well. “Dad. Dad! I have a fever!”

“What is it?” he’d ask.

“108,” I’d say.

“You’re full of crap. Get to school,” he’d growl.

“Dad, I can’t go to school. I’m
constipated!”

Temperature is science, not math, but the principles are the same. If you get 200 hits in 600 at bats, you’re batting average is .333.

You can’t say, “I feel like I’m hitting .380.” It is exact, precise, like your height and weight.

When you think about this kind of reporting, you realize it is very devious. We have to go to work the next day, and we are concerned the weather will make earning a living dangerous or impossible. So, we tune in to get the facts about the upcoming weather, and they dramatize every weather system to keep us coming back.

We are experiencing record cold weather in parts of the country. As I write this, temperatures are lower than they have ever been in our entire lives. It’s scary-cold. That means we may think the weather experts are exaggerating, when getting the truth could literally mean life or death.

How cold is it? It’s so cold they are afraid to tell you the wind chill numbers. It’s 40 degrees below zero in North Dakota.

I received several calls and emails yesterday trying to turn the weather into a political issue.

This partisan nonsense and immature bickering that is ripping our country apart has become tiresome. It feels like we are living a soap opera. The media is its own worst enemy, constantly looking to inflame, embellish, and get a good sound bite. It’s just like the wind chill: fake. People are freezing to death. The country is in turmoil.

Do we really need to know what Trump or Pelosi or Kanye think?

The media needs to stay focused — it’s Super Bowl week. Ask Tom Brady about the weather.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com