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24 November 2010
The Weather Channel as cultural artifact

What is it, exactly, about the weather that makes such good television? We’re thinking here not just of the cable channel in our headline but of your local weatherman or -woman, too, declaiming with excitement and alarm in front of ever more elaborate computer-generated diagrams and maps. Could it be, as Thomas L. Friedman suggests in his latest book, that “in 2030 the evening news is going to feature ‘weather, other news and sports’”?

For most of us, most of the time, shuttling from one climate-controlled environment to another, the weather makes less difference than it ever has in history. Then along comes a reminder that we are not quite as cut off from nature as we might suppose. And whether (oops—unavoidable pun!) we are seeking a vicarious escape from our humdrum, 73-degree lives, or plotting an actual escape from hurricane-force winds, weather TV is there. What does it make of the world?

1. What does the Weather Channel assume about the way the world is?

What does the Weather Channel assume about the way the world is? One might add—what does the way weather is covered big-time by the major networks assume about the way the world is?

Well, it seems to suggest that we are either awfully voyeuristic or are perhaps simply couch potatoes, riveted by the drama of watching our non-caring for the earth flash across the screen before our very eyes.

Jonathan Merritt ( has much to say about this. Also see

I am reading your awesome book, __Culture Making__, and hope I can find my own personal path through to a greater ownership of action for the good of the whole and less navel-gazing. Thanks for the hard work you put into writing __CM__!


Carmen Butcher
2. What does the Weather Channel assume about the way the world should be?

That even life’s most complex, unpredictable systems should be able to be forecast at least five days in advance, at least to the resolution of five or six different sun-and-cloud icons.

I suppose it also assumes that the weather should always be worth talking about—even weather that has no significant effect on us (either because we’re indoors or are, in fact, quite far away from the weather in question).

—Nate Barksdale

agree with nate: 1. life should be predictable 2. people have a need to prepare for future situations


More please, this information helped me consider a few more things, keep up the good work.

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3. What does the Weather Channel make possible?

Monitoring the conditions endured by loved ones in real time.  My parents visited last week during the lead-up to Hurricane Ike.  Though we live in Kentucky, we have a number of family members who live near Houston, and my parents checked the Weather Channel frequently for updates about the storm.

Mike Hickerson

It also makes it possible for us to more tightly plan what clothes we are wearing and what accessories we will bring (there’s very little need to bring an umbrella “just in case”, we know when it will rain).

4. What does the Weather Channel make impossible (or at least a lot more difficult)?

Thinking agriculturally.

With the exception of hail during fruit harvests, what matters for food production is months of weather, not hours. There are indeed semi-reliable forecasts for growing seasons, but those are not part of Weather Channel logic.

Paul Grant

The Weather Channel makes the leeway that people gave for consideration of weather, because the new assumption is that everyone can be prepared for weather.

Thus it makes it harder to cancel events because of rain, it makes it harder for your appearance to be excused because you were caught in a shower, it makes it harder for your lateness at work to be acceptable because you had to shovel your car out of a snowdrift, etc because now that you have the Weather Channel you are expected to know and plan ahead for these occurrences.

5. What new culture is created in response?

We’ve learned to understand abstract (purple and red) representations of weather activity as seen on satellite images.

When Landsat beamed strange images back to earth in the 70s and 80s, people were skeptical: “that lake isn’t hot pink in real life.” Today we accept the abstraction without a second’s thought.

Paul Grant