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What I Watched Last Night: Vortex 2

By David Hall

I'm a weather geek. Often I'll just put The Weather Channel on as my background, because I'm interested in weather anywhere. I know I'm not alone; Tom Skilling has his following, more and more time is devoted in news broadcasts everywhere to talk about what's going on and, heck, they even have "The Weather Channel!"

So, with the advent of the tornado season, Mike Bettes of TWC is joining with a team of more than 100 scientists and crew with an "armada" of mobile radar trucks, etc., to track tornadoes throughout "Tornado Alley" a strip of states including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of a couple of others.

TWC has been promoting the living crap out of this series, which basically is the 6-9 pm window that usually is manned by Bettes, a determined no-nonsense type with television good looks and Stephanie Abrams, who is both exceedingly knowledgeable and more bubbly than a bottle of San Pellegrino. She talks very fast and because she knows so much and has so much to say, she sometimes stumbles over her words. She can be both annoying and endearing at the same time. Her fatal flaw? The tendency, in just a couple of hours to ask multiple times, "What are you doing now?"

So with that I decided that while they're watching for tornadoes, somebody should be watching them. And that's me. I got to the action a little late tonight. Boy were those tacos good! Mike is in the field in northern Oklahoma and Stephanie is in the Weather Channel studio.

I picked things up about 45 minutes into the show. And I could tell right away it wasn't going well.

7:42 p.m.: Mike looks pissed. They seem to have picked the wrong storm to follow. Stephanie breaks in and asks, "So what exactly are you guys doing now?" The picture breaks up and he's gone. Stephanie, flustered, explains to the audience, "You have satellites at home, you understand what happens when weather hits them."

I don't have a satellite at home. No one I know does. Now I want my own satellite. They go to Dr. Greg Forbes, the severe weather expert, who knows his stuff. Calm,cool, collected and smart.

I want this to be the Dr. Forbes show. Now there's a split screen with a cool graphic on the right of a cross-section of a nasty thunderstorm they missed, and "LIVE", a shot of the Weather Channel van following another car. Wow! Dr Forbes explains that they simply picked the wrong storm. Stephanie remarks that they'll be right back to see "What exactly you guys are doing." I know what they're doing. They're driving down a dead-end road tonight and everyone seems to know it except her.

7:45 p.m.: Time to go to a commercial break. They show what to the uneducated might look like a tornado, but in reality is just a big rain cloud extending to the ground. First commercial - a promo for VORTEX 2! Just in case I wasn't just watching five seconds ago. Meanwhile, real tornadoes are popping up all over Missouri and into Illinois. Thank God for the Local Forecast on the 8's.

7:49 p.m.: Back to the action! For about the twentieth time tonight, they show video of a funnel cloud that never hit the ground. Back to Mike, who, still looking pissed, concurs with Dr. Forbes that they picked the wrong storm. But they don't say who "they" is. Hmmmmm. Abrams keeps trying to break in to ask where everyone else is. There goes the feed again. I'm starting to think Mike just drops the feed every time she asks him what he's going to do next. Back to Stephanie in the studio, who looks glum until the producer obviously tells her to lighten up. A small, half-hearted smile lights her face briefly, then she looks down like she might start to cry. Commercial time!

7:51 p.m.: Great news! Raquel Welch is still alive, still trying to pick up young men and still wearing Foster Grants. I just checked . . . she's 68. Not bad.

7:55 p.m: Back again, the same tired video of the poor little funnel cloud that couldn't. Stephanie breathlessly tells us they'll be back in a moment to find out "exactly what they're doing." No shit.

8 p.m.: Back to the show! There's little funnel cloud again, apparently there is no other weather going on anywhere in the United States. Finally, they go to "Adam" in the studio to show one of the nastiest lines of thunderstorms I've seen in a while. Hope all those people who spent the last ten minutes wondering why the sirens were going off as we watched little funnel and a couple of vans streaking down the road will be okay.

On to a live phone call with a police sergeant from Kirksville, Missouri who can't seem to confirm much of anything Stephanie asks him about. They talk over a split screen of the weather radar showing what the tornadic storm looked like as it went through Kirksville along with video of, guess what? I'm not even going to say. To her credit, Stephanie does not ask the sergeant what he is going to do next.

She then tells Dr. Forbes that time is short but that she wants him to comment on a graphic that he can't see. They go to a shot of Dr. Forbes, looking confused. Now I'm pissed. They're making Dr. Forbes look bad. I don't like it when they make Dr. Forbes look bad.

On to the next round of commercials, including a promo for Vortex 2. At the end of the promo I notice Mike standing in a field of early spring wheat, watching the sky as the wind blows. Then, there's a fake lightning flash and Mike is gone. Wonder what he thought when he saw that promo.

8:10 p.m.: Again with little funnel and a live report from a "Digital Journalist" in the "armada" with Mike. Digital Journalist says basically that there's not much going on.

Back to Stephanie, who says, "Let's go to Mike, let's not go to Mike, still having trouble with the satellite." Then she gets cut off in mid-sentence as they go to another commercial break. It's not all her fault, but the program is staggering like a punch drunk.

8:25 p.m.: Back to the studio, but not before we see some rare, amazing video, in Stephanie's words, of . . . . . . the little funnel that couldn't. Aaargggghhhh!

8:33 p.m.: Abrams on a two-shot with Dr. Forbes, with her "best piece of advice" for the viewing audience, if there still is one.

"KNOW YOUR COUNTY!" No, I am not kidding, she actually said that. According to her, weather watches and warnings are issued by county, and if you don't know your county AND the counties that surround you, YOU are in trouble. I had no idea.

Dr. Forbes looks embarrassed to be standing next to her, but dutifully agrees that it's good advice for everyone to know where they live.

Suddenly, I feel very lucky. I know my county, but what about those who don't? I feel sad for them. They must live lives of quiet desperation, wondering what county they live in, but not knowing how to find out. They may die in a tornado never knowing what county they lived in. Sob!

That's it for tonight, I can't watch anymore. This is getting brutal. I'm also sad for Dr. Forbes and myself for watching this for over an hour.

It's going to be a long five weeks. For me and for Mike.

I wonder exactly what he's doing right now.


See what else we've been watching.


Comments and submissions welcome.


Posted on May 14, 2009

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