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Minnesota weather makes good conversation, but is it news?

By Staff | May 22, 2009

I’m sure most people in the area have felt as though they have been on a weather roller coaster this past week.

On Sunday morning we were scrambling around trying to cover the newly planted flowers to protect them from possible frost as the temperatures dipped to the low 30s.

Just two days later, we scrambled to see if the air conditioner worked because the temperatures were hitting the 90s on Tuesday and Wednesday – with some fierce winds. Unbelievably it neared 100 degrees in this area – in May.

Some folks chanted the old refrain, “Only in Minnesota.”

And only in Minnesota can it have these temperature changes in the same day.

On Tuesday, when the thermometer here was topping out in the mid-90s, the high in Duluth was going to be just 44.

It reminded me of a similar day in May, a few years ago.

We left our home in Tyler on a warm day to go to Duluth and pack up our son and bring him home for the summer. He was a University of Minnesota, Duluth, student at the time.

As we rolled through Marshall, Willmar and St. Cloud, the temperature climbed from the 70s into the 80s. We were wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts and still had to flip on the air conditioning.

Cresting the hill and descending into Duluth was a shock. There were low, dark clouds and the thermometer on our van dipped to 42 degrees. To add insult to injury, some type of snow or sleet was spitting in the air.

We froze as we raced from dorm room to vehicle as fast as we could, carrying our son’s belongings to our van.

We abandoned the idea of lunch in Duluth and drove to the Twin Cities instead. Disembarking there we were hit with 90 degrees and high humidity.

We had gone from spring to winter to middle summer, all in one day.

I once heard Don Shelby of WCCO-TV debate whether the weather is news in Minnesota or not. Shelby, a television personality, was speaking at the newspaper convention.

He was basically lamenting the fact that they had to have a weather report on his 6 p.m. newscast every night.

His thought was that the newscast should be all news and not have any weather, unless something happened that made a weather-related item into news (such as a tornado hitting a town) and then the story wasn’t about weather, it was about the news.

Of course in Minnesota, he continued, we have such a fascination with weather it has to be on every night. He further complained that the station manager said weather had to be on in the latter part of the broadcast because a lot of Minnesotans were just watching the news in order to catch the weather report. If they put it on first in the broadcast, we Minnesotans would watch it and then start flipping the channel to something else.

We debate a similar issue in the newspaper business. Just because it snows in Minnesota and is bitterly cold in January isn’t really news. It does that all the time.

The same thing could be true about it being hot and humid in the summer. I could do the weather forecast here. In winter, it would be “It will be cold today with a 20 percent of snow.” Then in the summer you change it to “This afternoon it will be hot and humid, with a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms.”

It is sometime difficult to figure out when the weather isn’t weather, but is news. So says Don Shelby. Weather, Shelby says, is never really news. What it causes to happen may be newsworthy, but only sometimes.

Still, it makes an excellent conversation starter, (“Hot enough for you?”) and some good fodder for the coffee shop discussions (“How much rain did we get?”)

And it made for a column topic for this week’s Editor’s Notebook. As they say, if you can’t write about anything else, write about the weather.