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Positive Language about Tropical Storm Isaac

Posted by languageandgrammar on August 24, 2012

By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever and Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and Oddities

Being a meteorologist and writer, I sometimes confuse myself, so let’s be clear: This is a language-related weather post, not a weather-related language post!

Do They Want Hurricanes to Strengthen?

Am I the only one who is disturbed by how often meteorologists (degree in meteorology) and weather presenters (“I’m not a meteorologist, but I play on tv”) make it sound as if they want tropical storms and hurricanes to strengthen?

I watched a Weather Channel update a couple of days ago on Tropical Storm Isaac, which could become Hurricane Isaac, and I heard several references that made it sound as if it would be a good thing for the storm to strengthen.

  • The upper-levels were not conducive to the storm developing.
  • Dry air being pulled into the storm was going to slow development.
  • Interaction with Cuba would slow its development to hurricane strength.
  • The broad circulation was preventing a rapid intensification.
  • The westward track was making it less likely to move up the East Coast.

Based on those statements, you might conclude that it would be good for the storm to strengthen and slam into the East Coast. The statements were all phrased in the negative (negative for the storm), but they all sounded like positive points to me, except for the regions that were going to be affected by the more westward movement.

Storm’s Perspective

Most people don’t want to see death and destruction from storms, of course, but it is worth nothing that there are a few ego-driven meteorologists who would much rather be correct about a forecast even if it means more destruction than be wrong about a forecast and have it be less destructive. That’s too bad, but it’s also not the point here.

The point is that since meteorologists dictate the tone of the discussion, they do it from the perspective that they care about (the perspective of the storm) instead of the perspective that is most important to the audience (the potential effects of the storm). For the record, I’m sure that I’ve been guilty of it myself.

Regardless, it’s not terribly effective communication.

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