Crying Wolf

“Yellow Warning”.  Last night the forecast on my smartphone said there were warnings for snow and ice across Scotland and the North of England.   Soon after noticing this I found myself watching the BBC weather forecasts and –  on both the local and national slots – there were dire warnings about dangerous roads early in the day for this part of the world.

Since we had planned to drive into Newcastle (about 20 miles) we came to the rapid conclusion that it would be better to wait until the afternoon, although in fact the morning suited us better.  After all, the yellow warning was in force until midday.

It was a surprise, therefore, to wake up to a cloudy and not especially cold morning.  In fact, it was four degrees, which you may or may not think is cold, but in any case it was enough to make us change tack and decide to do our shopping trip this morning after all.

Now, I’m not one of those who constantly forecasters for getting it wrong. I rely quite heavily on weather forecasts, in one way or another, and in general they are very good.  What I do find irritating, though, is this colour-coded warning system.   I realise that amber is quite severe, and casual observation suggests that when there’s an amber warning it does mean something.

Yellow, however, is pretty meaningless.  The vapid prose that accompanies these warnings can usually be condensed to something like: “It may rain/snow/blow in some or any of the places inside this very large area, but it may not”.  Crucially, the warnings always err on the side of caution, so that you end up being worried about what might happen, as opposed to what is likely. As was the case for us today.

The bigger problem is that with over-use, and with so many people not experiencing any problems, the warnings will be routinely ignored.  Just like the old fable about the little boy crying Wolf.    “Oh, I know they said there might be fog – but they’re always hyping things up.”  BANG!


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