By Mitch Albom

I used to think that there were two kinds of people in the world, those who liked Barry Manilow and those who didn't. But I must expand that. There are also those who freak out over weather and those who don't.

I'm not talking about tsunamis or Category 5 hurricanes. Anyone would freak out over those.

I'm talking about snow and rain, two things we have, somewhere on the planet, on a daily basis.

This past week, to hear the news media hype it, the Blizzard of the Century was upon us. In Detroit, we were warned of "up to 2 feet" -- or at least that's what everyone was saying by the time they turned off their TV's and radios. "Did you hear? Up to 2 feet!"

Those words -- like "fire!" or "food fight!" -- make people spring into action. Supermarkets were suddenly jammed. Shoppers cleared the shelves of water, milk, bread, flare guns. Snowblowers and shovels were snatched up. Airlines preemptively cancelled hundreds of flights. Schools announced closings before a single flake fell. "Up to 2 feet!" became a mantra.

Except that, when all was said and done, it was nowhere near that in Detroit. In certain parts, it was all of 5 inches. And in households throughout our area, you now can hear people grumbling at their children, "Come on, drink more milk."

Live views of the snowpocalypse

Now, none of this should diminish the hardships people did have with the snow. It did clobber many parts of the nation. Driving was lousy. Air travel was a mess. And whether it's 5 inches or 6 inches or 11 inches -- it's all a lot harder than sunshine and blue skies.

But as I said, you either freak out about weather or you don't. Especially in the North. We've been having snowstorms in these parts, what, forever? We certainly had more than 5 inches plenty of times -- even 11 inches. And you know what? We survived.

So why, today, does every coming storm seem like Armageddon? For this, I must blame -- and I'm sorry if it's a familiar refrain, but if the shoe fits -- television.

Before TV weather became a high-tech video game, all a weathercaster could say was "a snowstorm is on the way." He couldn't show you animated storm systems rolling over your state like Noah's flood. He couldn't show you ominous blobs of blood red and electric blue. He couldn't yank out videos of deathly blizzards or scare you with bracing wind-chill warnings.

He couldn't use Doppler or Weather Cam or whatever gizmo system is the latest to roll out of the weather industry. He couldn't make it sound as if he were the Wizard of Oz and you were just a sniveling Cowardly Lion.

No wonder everyone freaks out. By the time you're done with a TV forecast (and it holds for radio and newspapers as well), you want to dive into a bunker.

Except that, for as long as there have been weather forecasters, there have been wrong weather forecasters. Their accuracy still can be sketchy -- even with all that equipment. Rain doesn't stay as long as predicted. They say sun, but soon it's cloudy. Two feet becomes 5 inches. Five inches becomes 2 feet.

They get it right. They get it wrong.

You can freak out. Or you can roll with it.

The meteorological facts of life

Personally, I like to see the snow before I start shoveling. Whatever happened to just dealing with a storm after it hit -- not before it arrives? For salt trucks, yes, advance is good. Maybe even for certain flights -- so that a plane doesn't get stuck overnight.

But we always managed to survive before by calling school off in the morning. We always managed to have enough food in cupboards to get us through a snow-in. Are we really in so much more danger now? Or is there just a bigger audience for media -- which means bigger money -- when they blast "WINTER STORM WARNING" all over the place?

There's an old adage of a man ankle-deep in snow, remarking to his neighbor, "I just shoveled 6 inches of 'partly cloudy' out of my driveway." The implication is that predicting the weather is, at best, a risky business.

But today it seems we do a lot more predicting the worst than the best. And if, as you read this, you're on your fourth glass of milk, you probably agree.

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