If ever the weather deserves to hog the headlines, it’s when record high temperatures roll in and a bona-fide heatwave has us in its grip. But did the media over-egg a story which mostly spoke for itself?
“The New Zealand sun’s hot enough to fry an egg!”
New Zealanders of a certain age may remember an often-played TV ad for paint in years gone by in which a laconic Aussie bloke in a singlet (not Rolf Harris) bellowed the claim at viewers.
You can’t always believe the ads, of course. This week’s heatwave was a perfect chance to test that.
With Napier nudging 33 degrees on Monday, Hawke's Bay Today cracked an egg on a manhole cover and the paper posted the disappointing results in video:
Stuff launched a live blog of heatwave news and reported that an Inglewood woman recorded 42.3 degrees in her backyard on Tuesday and she planned to try and fry an egg too.
But Stuff said Taranaki Regional Council's website recorded only 28.5 at lunchtime in Inglewood so that probably wouldn’t have worked.
Good fact-checking there.
For some, the egg yarns and other weather trivia were irrelevant and annoying. Likewise the side-bar stuff in the news about about ice-cream sales, cool-down life-hacks and frazzled pet picture stories.
But the same Stuff blog post also reported Inglewood’s swimming pool had extended its hours into the evening to cool down locals.
That was news they could really use in truly hot times.
But how hot exactly?
Reports of “brutal” hot weather and “scorching” temperatures drew complaints from Mediawatch listeners, who felt neither brutalised nor scorched - just a bit hot.
Stuff’s heatwave live blog carried a link to a story by the UK’s Guardian ('I had to open a window’) poking fun at the self-same blog for catastrophising the situation - including a Stuff reporter:
Dunedin heatwave update.— hamish mcneilly (@southernscoop) January 28, 2019
Paused, briefly, while walking up the stairs.
People in countries where high-30s heat is common would have laughed out loud, but they weren't the only ones who reckoned the media here were overheated.
“Is the heat really news, or is this just the way the media report it these days?” Newstalk ZB nighttime host Marcus Lush asked his listeners on Monday.
Unusual and extreme weather has always been a popular topic richly exploited by news media.
In the digital-era media economy, stories with headlines hyping up sudden storms and "weather bombs" generate lucrative clicks.
“Does anyone out there feel it’s the hottest it’s ever been?” Mr Lush asked.
One by one, listeners with long memories (who would remember that guy from that TV ad) told him it was hotter back in ‘73 or ‘64 and so on.
“Complaining about heat in summer is just classic human behaviour," said one. "We don't know how lucky we are."
But while some talkback callers claimed they'd seen it all before, the record numbers coming from NIWA and MetService this week could not be ignored by the media.
All time high daytime and nighttime temperatures were recorded in places all over the country and it’s not every day a health board warns of "extremely dangerous" weather creating a potential "national emergency".
Some people feel patronised by media relaying warnings about dehydration, wearing hats and laying off the booze a bit - but that’s belt-and-braces public information the media should carry.
And information about fire bans and zones of extreme fire danger could even save lives - core public service stuff.
Regular updates of minor fluctuations in temperatures will drive some people up the wall, but many more do want to know what’s happening in other parts of the country whether they’re "scorching" in "brutal" heat or not.
The occasional futile frying of a roadside egg or two doesn’t undermine that either.