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opinion Dickinson, 58602
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Not to make light of a nasty situation, but there's a certain sameness to big winter storms. Their narrative practically writes itself:

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Flight cancellations. Airport delays. Schools closed. Wind gusts. Drifting snow. Zero visibility. Interstates closed. Stranded travelers. Thousands without power. A state of emergency declared.

Though it's got to be pretty serious when Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. both declare a snow emergency.

And even the people who are unaffected by a blizzard are entranced by the television coverage of it. Again, not to make light of it, but when you've seen one segment of cars creeping along the highway, a pickup -- and it always seems to be a pickup -- buried in a roadside snow bank and travelers sleeping on an airport floor, you've pretty much seen them all.

This modern preoccupation with weather is strange because few of us farm and few of us even have to go outside in bad weather. The preoccupation has bred certain subsets like the obsessives who have The Weather Channel playing in the background every waking minute.

And there's a certain guilty sense of relief when bad weather happens to someone else. If the good people of Buffalo, N.Y., could get out of their snowbound city, they would probably happily kill those people in more salubrious parts of the country who dismiss their travails by saying, "Oh, well. They're used to it."

I don't remember thinking much at all about the weather when I was younger in a city, Pittsburgh, renowned for bad weather or going to college in Upstate New York where winter came early and stayed late.

Having lived a long time in Washington, D.C., I've begun to brood about the capital's winters, surreptitiously peeking at the National Weather Service Web site to check up on weather that I can see perfectly well from the office window.

It's only the winters. Washington summers tend to be alike. If you forecast "hazy, hot and humid and chance of an afternoon thunderstorm," then you've got the weather locked up from June to September.

To give the weather forecasters their due, because of Washington's mid-Atlantic location between the ocean and the Appalachians, the weather can be tough to predict. Storms bearing down on Washington will veer off at the last minute. Others just plow straight into the city.

Thus the local forecasters frequently call for "a wintry mix" -- snow, sleet and rain -- which I suspect is meteorological talk for "We don't have a clue."

Then, too, Washingtonians might be acutely sensitized to the weather because the TV forecasts are given in a tone of barely controlled hysteria.

Even on an absolutely still summer night, not a cloud in the sky, not a breath of a breeze, one station still insists on going to "Storm Center Four." And there's a TV weather convention that requires in cases of heavy rain or snow for somebody to go stand outside the station and announce the blindingly obvious: "It's really coming down."

One station has a really annoying way of using the weather as a tease for the 11 o'clock news. Admittedly, there's a lot that goes on in Washington that won't make you stay up past your bedtime: "Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke today told Congress he's thinking of recalculating the M-1 measure of the money supply."

Instead, this station likes to tease with apocalypse: "Is there a killer asteroid in our future? Will a tsunami engulf Rockville? Will molten lava pour down the flanks of Mount Pleasant? Will we even be here tomorrow? We'll tell you on News Edge at 11."

Instead, you'll see footage of those poor souls in the Upper Midwest getting hammered by a blizzard. You'll feel shamefully glad it's them, not you, and if you look hard in the background you'll see a pickup truck half-buried in a snowdrift.

-- McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at McFeattersD@SHNS.com.

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