Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Saturday, April 08, 2006

As is Usually the Case,

The catastrophic super storm predicted by the self-absorbed local weather people amounted to a big bunch of nothing. Again typically, local officials overreacted to the wolf-cries. One school administrator justified the decision to close schools early yesterday by saying: "We're not worried about people making comments . . . It is inconvenient for parents. But safety should always override inconvenience. We will always err on the side of safety for the children."

Right, so if there is a .05 percent chance that a tornado may touch down somewhere in the state, you should cancel school? You have to balance the risk and the inconvenience. If the inconvenience is greater than the risk, then keep the schools open. Yesterday, that was the case. The threat was nothing more than a little rain, and maybe some lightning. Even if there was a tornado, I'd bet most kids would be safer in those big 'ol concrete school buildings than in their wood frame homes.

And as for the weather celebrities, the problem with them is that all the incentives favor overblowing the weather situation. It makes them feel important. It attracts viewers. It could contribute to public safety. The result is that no matter how remote the threat, it is potentially THE END OF THE WORLD! So, like folks who have heard "wolf" one time too many, some of us just ignore the weather people all together. That, in turn, undoes the possible safety benefits.

So what incentives are there to tone down the alarms? Perhaps make all weather people anonymous? Have a centralized, publicly funded weather alert station? Or am I just an old curmudgeon?