Opinion

The weather is still the greatest show on Earth

This weekend I went to a wedding, where I spent a good portion of the night talking to the other attendees about the weather. 

That might not seem notable: The weather is exactly the sort of inoffensive topic you're supposed to talk about at weddings, right up there with how you know the couple and the quality of the cake. But as anyone who's had any social interaction lately has noticed, the weather has been putting the Ringling Bros. to shame as the greatest show on Earth.

This summer, for example, I've talked about the weather with strangers in Seattle, where the heat soared to a record-breaking 108 degrees Fahrenheit, and in New York City, as our friends' outdoor nuptials were threatened by what was then on track to be the first hurricane to make landfall in New England in 36 years (the storm was ultimately downgraded by the time it reached Rhode Island). No longer the banal, easy opening remark that it once was, the weather has become a more pressing observation, at least as worthy of mention as the latest Bennifer development or rumors about Tiger King season 2. And publishers are taking note: "Amid a waning appetite for political news in the post-Trump era," The New York Times wrote earlier this summer, "media executives are realizing that demand for weather updates is ubiquitous — and for an increasing swath of the country, a matter of urgent concern."

That makes sense: Like live sports, the other evergreen standby for media companies, the weather is unpredictable, and people want to read the latest updates in real-time. There is, of course, no use in learning that it rained two hours ago. Interpretation of the data by experts is a necessity, too. And most obviously, the weather directly affects our lives, in a way that so many other important news stories mostly do not.

But suggesting the weather occupies a conversational space that is in direct opposition to "political news" is also misleading. Because while once a comment like "strange weather we're having!" might have indeed been innocent enough, it's nearly impossible to remark upon anymore without the implicit reminder that scientists overwhelmingly believe that human activity is responsible for the extreme weather

That's not to say there won't be stubborn attempts to report on the weather without mentioning climate change — take Fox News, which is savvily capitalizing on the new conditions by launching its own meteorological arm even as the flagship network's biggest personalities frequently downplay or deny the crisis. "How do you address the fact that weather changes are caused to some degree by humans when you have a media property with a history of challenging that fact?" Brian Wieser, the lead analyst at advertising giant WPP's media investing arm, marveled to The New York Times about the new venture.

But the fact that even Fox News is rushing to cover the weather is a sign in and of itself. Likewise, The Weather Channel, the company best positioned for the surge of customer interest, is launching a subscription video service later this year called — what else? — The Weather Channel Plus. The new service will "feature more than 50 streaming channels of news and entertainment and will cost subscribers $4.99 a month," Variety reports.

And while it might seem crazy to expect customers to pay to learn about the weather when we have info readily available for free on our phones, that's exactly what a new Twitter service called Currently is also banking on. The social media platform partnered with meteorologist, climate journalist, and author Eric Holthaus on the project, which offers both free city-specific newsletters as well as paid memberships that start at $10 and, among other perks, allow subscribers to directly ask meteorologists and climate experts questions "with a guaranteed response." Currently also centers the climate crisis in its coverage, with merch that touts that "we are in a climate emergency" and "we were born at exactly the right time to change everything."

This media boom isn't a case of copycat ventures, but of a real need to satisfy customer demand. After all, we're the ones who've been making casual conversation about the wildfires, the extreme heat, the flooding, the storms — because it's happening in our backyards. You can't not talk about it anymore, regardless of the danger of a conversational faux pas.

It'd be better for everyone if the weather really was as boring as its reputation would have us believe. But the sad truth is that it isn't, and won't be again anytime soon. Extreme weather will continue to rivet us, to scare us, and to threaten us; it's no wonder we can't stop talking about it. It's the greatest show we're all tuned into — because we're living it, too.

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