Weather blogger Dennis Mersereau is absolutely correct when, in a recent blog post, he admonishes journalists to choose their words carefully, especially when writing about weather disasters.
The impetus of his post was a People Magazine headline and tweet Dec. 24 that described the Dec. 23 tornadoes in the South and Midwest as “unexpected.”
I first learned about the above tweet (based on a headline which People later changed, after being blasted on social media) when my friend and National Weather Service meteorologist Nick Greenawalt tweeted about it:
— Jay Farlow, W9LW (@RadioW9LW) December 24, 2015
You can see my comment at the time, above.
My lovely wife later helped me realize that there was a chance the writer of that headline did not intend to imply that the tornadoes were not forecast or that people in their path were not warned. Instead, she asserted, it’s possible that “unexpected” was simply an extremely poor word choice to communicate how unusual tornadoes are at this time of year.
In his recent blog post, Mersereau lays out the entire series of outlooks, watches and warnings that should have made every citizen in the affected area that tornadoes were likely that day.
He also makes compelling arguments for the idea that words matter in stories about weather aftermath.
Even if my lovely wife is right, at best, a member of People’s staff chose poorly when he or she wrote the Dec. 24 headline. But Mersereau is also right. Words matter. Especially when they appear in publications that have audiences the size of People’s.
We should all hold journalists to high standards in their choices of words.
I strongly recommend you read Mersereau’s post and share it: