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Weather or not
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For those of you who were out of town or under sedation last week, a severe weather alert for Wednesday afternoon prompted a community-wide reaction - overreaction, in the minds of some - including the cancellation of half the school day on very short notice.

Parents received, at most, about half an hour's notice from local school officials that they were to come pick up their kids at noon (1 p.m. for elementary schools).

In years past, this last-minute decision would have been untenable. The public would have been outraged.

But this time, for the most part it actually worked smoothly. The word spread around town like wildfire, through a variety of means. Automated calls (most to cell numbers) came from the school system, along with internet postings. Within minutes that was followed by an avalanche of people using Twitter, Facebook, and texts to further disseminate the info.

The fact that the expected severe weather didn't materialize in the immediate area - though it certainly did further inland - doesn't make the event any less noteworthy.

The weather event showed what is emerging as the real day-to-day value of web-based technology: Not as a freewheeling forum for fringe political opinion or unlimited "free" content (free to you but definitely not free for those of us in the business of generating it), but as a real-time source of practical information.

Let's face it: Most of the internet has pretty much turned to crap. Search engine results, once the core of online research, are now as bogus as a forwarded e-mail in an election year.

Outfits like Demand Studios and eHow pay untrained, unaccountable "content providers" pennies to quickly generate sketchy articles tailor-made to appear at the top of the results for specific search terms. The value or accuracy of the article is irrelevant - its only purpose is to garner page views.

And don't get me started on the aggregator sites like Huffington Post, whose "business model" largely consists of hijacking links and packaging the content as their own.

No, in terms of content, the regular internet - Web 1.0 - has reached a saturation point, like a piece of ground that's full of rain and can't contain another drop (to continue our weather metaphor).

Web 2.0 - social media, Facebook in particular - is the new face of the internet, so much so that many media outlets, Connect Savannah included, use Facebook pages to direct people to their websites, rather than vice versa.
I did find the aftermath of the weather kerfuffle to be interesting as well. There were the usual accusations that the local media, meteorologists in particular, overhyped the weather alert, and that the school board panicked in its call to shorten the school day.

This kind of Monday morning quarterbacking is part and parcel of Savannah life, and just because it's predictable doesn't make it correct. I understand the reaction, but don't agree with it.

As inconvenient as it may be to get a call on short notice to pick up your child from school, it would be far more inconvenient to get a call with the news that your child's school bus overturned in heavy winds. However tardy it was in coming, the school board made the right call.

As for local media, we're very lucky to have meteorologists like Pat Prokop - who, not coincidentally, is also well ahead of the curve in using social media to inform the public - who take their jobs as seriously as they do.
Using hindsight to criticize such experts after the fact is an exercise in anti-intellectualism that's particularly pervasive locally, and especially ludicrous considering how easy we have it weather-wise here.

The truth is that apart from the not-insignificant threat of hurricanes, Savannah has one of the most user-friendly climates in America.

The northeast is nearly as hot and humid as Savannah in the summer, and buried in snow most of the winter. The midwest sees subzero temps all winter long. In the mountain west, a four-wheel drive vehicle is mandatory to cope with the four months of snow and the four months of mud that follow. California has earthquakes, wildfires, and drought.

The truth is we've got it easy here, and that's precisely the reason for the notorious local overreaction to the slightest out of the ordinary weather event.

My advice: Enjoy it. Revel in the fact that Savannah totally freaks out when a storm approaches. When your boat is that easily rocked, it means you've got pretty smooth sailing most of the time.

Be thankful - not disappointed - that last week's storm didn't materialize as the weather man predicted.

Most of all, be thankful for the unexpected gift of a little more precious time to spend with your children.

Speaking of children, I'm very proud to say that my daughter Sophia is dancing the lead role of Clara in this weekend's performance of The Nutcracker by the Savannah Danse Theatre, with live accompaniment by the Savannah Philharmonic under the direction of Peter Shannon (Sophia's photo, taken by Christina M. Bunn, is one of our teaser photos on the cover this week). For more, see Bill DeYoung's piece in this issue.