No Snow, No Cents

I know it’s a couple of weeks later, but two recent “My Two Cents” segments by News 9’s Kelly Ogle defending his station’s extensive coverage of the “blizzard that wasn’t” on Feb. 25 deserve some serious rebuttal or least some real, local debate.

If case you’ve forgotten, here’s what happened: On Feb. 25, a major snowstorm hit western and northwestern Oklahoma. All the major television networks in Oklahoma hyped the storm relentlessly—none more than News 9—while predicting the Oklahoma City area would also feel the brunt of the storm.

The Oklahoma City area, however, received only light snow on that day, and what snow it did get had little, if no, effect on road conditions. News 9, as Ogle admits, was “the only station that stayed in extended coverage through that afternoon.” In other words, News 9’s dire predictions, which caused local universities to close and the cancellation of other events, didn’t come true.

Ogle, a well-known Oklahoma City news anchor, defended his station and especially its meteorologists in a March 4 “My Two Cents” segment by essentially arguing there was no way to know the storm would just suddenly stall and then “curl around” the metro, dusting Oklahoma City but leaving its streets extremely passable.

In the words of Ogle: “One of the darndest things I've ever seen.”

Ogle goes on to conclude, “When it was over we asked ourselves, in hindsight, would we cover it differently.. and the answer was no.”

Case closed, right? Not quite. Here are some observations:

(1) The bulk of the viewing audience for Oklahoma City television stations remain in the metropolitan area. That’s why News 9 and its competitors have a special responsibility to get the weather forecast right for Oklahoma City more so than, say, for Guymon in the Oklahoma Panhandle. In his piece, Ogle mentions that “the ratings after the fact, show that viewers flocked to our coverage,” but that’s just the point. News 9 simply scared its local viewers with the specter of a blizzard, undoubtedly made many people change their schedules that day for no reason and, overall, disrupted lives for “ratings after the fact.” The main issue I have about the local coverage is that once it was clear the storm was a dud for Oklahoma City, News 9, and all the local stations, needed to say so and why. (More on this later) This took way too long. It was as if the television weather staffers here couldn’t believe their hype hadn’t conjured up a blizzard through sheer collective osmosis or simply by a magical concoction created by their collective good looks. By contrast,, the site of The Weather Channel, forecast a temperature range during the day that never dropped below freezing for the Oklahoma City area. Weather anchor Mike Morgan of Channel 4, seemed to be more reality-based about his forecast later in the day (no agenda here), but there was no doubt that News 9 expended the most energy on all the hype. In the end, places such as Guymon and Woodward ended up with all the coverage. Here in Oklahoma City, we had to adjust our lives for a day for nothing. What’s more, News 9 and the other stations pretty much abandoned other news coverage for that day in favor of, again, residents in Woodward or other small, rural cities. What about the 1.3 million people who reside in the Oklahoma City area?

(2) The question, which was never answered in depth by the television weather hypesters as far as I can tell, is why did the storm stall? One obvious reason is the higher temperatures along the southern edge of the storm, but that doesn’t even explain it in larger terms. Could it be that climate change played a factor in the inability of the local television forecasters to get it right? Climatologists have long argued that global warming, caused by manmade carbon emissions, will result in erratic and unpredictable weather events. What Ogle calls one of “the darndest things” just might have a scientific explanation. Of course, one weather event or non-weather event doesn’t validate anything, but it does become part of a pattern. Unfortunately, News 9 Gary England is part of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s list of global warming skeptics. Ogle’s “My Two Cents” rants are normally folksy drivel—“the darndest things”—and extremely conservative. To my knowledge, none of the local weather anchors have consistently addressed the impact of global warming on the local weather here. This is short-sighted and irresponsible. The non-blizzard, just like the state’s extended drought and recent record high annual temperatures, could be used to explain climate change and, perhaps, qualify why predicting severe weather events has become even more difficult here.

(3) As I wrote earlier, Ogle is a well-known and popular television anchor here. He’s a permanent fixture in the Oklahoma media scene with his blond curly mane and tall stature, what print journalists used to call “a hair,” which means, in the larger perspective, the privileging of physical beauty over intellectual prowess on any given televised news show. Maybe Ogle believes his station’s own hype about himself, and that has instilled in him an arrogance that manifested itself in his “My Two Cents” pieces about the unblizzard. The first piece completely dismisses any criticism of his station’s over-the-top coverage. The second one responds to a viewer that dared to criticize the station’s coverage. Ogle tells off viewer Craig this way:

Your point is right on, AND to follow your logic next time when it does bury YOUR house and cars in snow, and your lights are flickering you'll know exactly which channel to turn to! On 2nd thought, I'm sure the guy in Woodward won't give a hoot that you're getting dumped on because it missed his house, so I guess we'll just leave you hanging and head back to CSI...I'm sure you'll understand.

There’s that Woodward/Oklahoma City distinction again. Maybe News 9 needs to relocate to Woodward where it might be more appreciated. The point is that News 9 was wrong and disrupted lives here for no reason. The station’s news and weather crews could simply apologize, laugh it off and move on, but that’s too much for Ogle and company. In fact, Ogle and crew seem even more committed to getting it all wrong in the future again by manufacturing a ratings-bonanza crisis to scare people into watching them perform. We can always change the channel, true, but that doesn’t mean the News 9 hype won’t affect us as we readjust our schedules because of unneeded cancellations and worry needlessly about food supplies and power disruptions.