CommCore Blog and News

Impact of Hyping a Storm – Creating a Public Safety Issue?

TV and news weather forecasters, like politicians, tend to take center stage and issue passionate warnings before a weather event. IncreasingObserver marchly, the public is growing tired of the hyperbole: Every snow storm has the potential to be a blizzard. Every drop of rain might break the levee. If there is wind in the forecast, it could rival Katrina. How many ‘storms of the century’ can we have in one century?!

When the storm doesn’t live up to the hype, critics say media forecasters cried “Wolf!” “Over time, the public shrugs its shoulders and ignores the warnings as just clickbait or another pitch for ratings.

Does this create a public safety issue? Is there a better way to communicate weather warnings so that they are heeded? What learnings are there for others who have to communicate warnings of any kind?

A 2013 article posted on researched why residents in the Midwest ignore tornado warnings and ultimately risk injury and death. Explanations range from playing the odds, denial that it might happen to them, lack of experience in witnessing or being impacted by such a storm, or even a sense that they know better than the experts.

From a communications perspective, one of the explanations was particularly interesting. The research stated that the public has become “…desensitized by keywords that are used to describe storms such as “historic” and “deadly.” The media then hypes-the-hype and has created terms such as “Frankenstorm” and “Snowpocalypse,” to ensure that the warnings are heeded. The jury is out as to whether this tactic has worked, and some have concluded that it only contributes to the desensitizing of the public.

Here are some of CommCore’s lessons for communicators about warning stakeholders (employees, shareholders, investors or the public at large) about potentially damaging headwinds facing their business:

  • Use hyperbolic terms of emphasis sparingly
  • Always provide context and educate the audience
  • Test dramatic adjectives and terminology with colleagues to make sure they match your intent
  • Don’t speculate; reserve hyperbole for when events are clearly going to present risk
  • Avoid creating overly-clever terminology that actually diminishes the import of your message
  • When speaking about the impending event or issue, practice matching your vocal tone and emphasis to your actual words