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Is that word real, or is it marketing?

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There’s a reason I don’t read comments on social media or news posts if I can help it. They usually annoy me by reminding me just how ignorant, cynical, or mean people can be. I find it best to preserve my own relatively optimistic view of humanity by avoiding them. However, sometimes I can’t help it because Facebook highlights a comment on a post I’m reading and my own need to read gets in my way.

Today, I saw one in response to a post about the macroburst that hit New England on Tuesday, May 15, by WeatherNation on Facebook. It said, “Oh great another made-up stupid name to a storm!” In response, I posted the link to the definition of a macroburst on the American Meteorological Society’s glossary page – proof that WeatherNation did not just make up the word.

After a few moments of thought, I decided that I couldn’t blame the commenter for thinking that the word was invented for the story. It’s not like we use it very often, and it wouldn’t be the first time a media outlet invented a word or phrase for an attention-grabbing headline.

Let’s face it. Media outlets – even those based on scientific news – do not help their own waning perceived credibility by creating buzzwords, naming winter storms, and hyping the potential for disasters long before there is reasonable evidence to believe the disaster will actually occur. At this point, readers have every reason to be skeptical when they see a new term used in a headline.

Conversations among meteorologists happen pretty regularly on and offline about whether we are helping to clarify the science to the general public or serving to confuse them even more by how we present news about the weather. (I won’t even get started on the subject of the climate!) I’m of the belief that one media outlet naming winter storms when the rest of the community – including the National Weather Service – does not is more confusing to people than it is helpful. I also think that if we introduce a new weather term like “macroburst,” we need to define it as WeatherNation did and explain that it is in fact defined in a resource such as the AMS Glossary. Maybe then, non-scientists who report on the event would use it properly and not as the latest buzzword thrown around loosely in every headline to follow because it sounds cool or dangerous – polar vortex, anyone?

At the very least, maybe the reader will come away with a better understanding of the weather.


SPC map of macroburst

The Storm Prediction Center’s map of preliminary storm reports from Tuesday, May 15, 2018, shows a large number of high, straight-line wind reports (in blue) – evidence of a macroburst (or many).