Cory Wolfe, Associated Press Science Writer
(New York, NY) — Scientists at Columbia University have completed a study confirming what climatologists had been whispering among themselves for years but been unable to prove: the number of mentions of hurricanes among the public, on television news, and even in situation comedies has skyrocketed in the last three decades. Data from the same study indicated that the average number of hours spent watching hurricanes on television per year increased dramatically from 1975 to 2008. At the start of the study period the average American viewed .4 hours of hurricane coverage per year; at the end of the study period, the number had climbed to fourteen hours – an increase of more than a factor of 30.
“Those of us who actually performed the research knew that Katie Couric said the word ‘hurricane’ a lot more than Walter Cronkite had in his first five years as CBS anchor,” said the study’s lead author, Roan Montale. “What came as a surprise was seeing the word in scripts and transcripts for South Park and Two and a Half Men. But it goes way, way beyond news and sit-coms. People are actually watching dramatic characters on shows such as CSI: Miami who themselves are watching hurricane coverage on the show, a storm-within-a-storm, if you will.” Asked whether it was theoretically possible that viewers at home would eventually watch TV characters watching other TV characters on their televisions watching hurricanes on their televisions, Montale didn’t hesitate. “It is more than possible,” he said. “I would go so far as to call it likely.”
Dr. William Nitty, a hurricane expert and a prominent climate-change skeptic, cried foul at the news of the study results, pointing to the thousands and thousands of hurricanes and other ocean storms during the present climatic era, known as the Holocene interglacial, that went unnoticed until recently. “The ocean-atmosphere system hasn’t done anything really new in quite a while,” Nitty said in a phone interview. “What’s unique to our historical moment is the technology that allows us to look at these storms from satellites and deliver those images into the homes of people who used not to care about hurricanes at all.”
One of the Columbia study’s co-authors, Roger Simon, did his best to lay to rest the persistent clamor of criticism from scientists disputing the role of carbon dioxide in increasing mentions of hurricanes and hours spent watching them on television. “Correlation is not causation?” Simon asked, rhetorically. “I would point out that when I went into climatology, not all that long ago, my own specialty – climate media science – was a field that literally did not exist. Fifteen years later, with carbon dioxide more than 25 parts per million higher, there are whole academic departments that do nothing but what I do. I suppose that that is a coincidence, too?”
Observers on both sides of the ideological divide appeared to agree that watching fully credentialed meteorologists holding onto trees as hurricanes made landfall around them made for compelling live television. “I can remember in the early 1990s when the practice became more widespread how you could see the TV weathermen looking a little self-conscious about the theatricality of it all,” said Nitty. “Those days are gone.”
Montale concurred when informed of Nitty’s observation, although he had his own take on the phenomenon. “There is nothing to be embarrassed about,” he said. “Getting the public to focus on storms that might or might not have been completely ignored just a generation or two ago is crucial. Hurricanes no longer mean the same thing that they did when they were killing people by the tens of thousands prior to the TV era.”
The study confirmed, also for the first time, that in the Third World, where media is less developed, fewer people watch hurricanes on TV. “Not only did we find that people in developing nations watch hurricanes less on television,” said Montale, “we also found that they are a lot more likely to appear in actual footage from tropical-cyclone disaster scenes. The irony is painful.”
Asked to estimate the viewership that might accompany a reprise of the landfalling hurricanes on U.S. shores of the magnitude and location of the Galveston Storm of 1900 and the 1938 hurricane that struck Long Island and Rhode Island, Montale demurred. “The number of people watching will be immense. It will be unparalleled.”
Funding for the Columbia study has been extended for another ten years, and the scientists hope to fine-tune their findings. “We know that people are watching hurricanes on their TVs, increasingly. What we don’t know is if there is any upper limit to the phenomenon,” Simon said.
Montale signaled that the rise of mentions of hurricanes among the public was also unlikely to do anything but continue increasing. “Talking about hurricanes has become a verbal shorthand for letting people you know you’re a good person,” he said. “As people become busier and busier in our modern era, such shorthand becomes all the more vital. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide continues to rise.”
Grants from the United States Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation all contributed to the study.
[The above article is a satire.]