Brian McNicoll

Nearly every TV station worth its signal has a Doppler radar and the capability to link to Dopplers at sister stations closer to the action. Private services, such as the Weather Channel, fill in the blanks with 10-day forecasts, coastal flood warnings and their own radar screens.

When weather is a story, as it was last weekend – a Rasmussen Poll says 81 percent of Americans were closely following Irene developments – the media is all over it. Weather people pull double duty. Programming is pre-empted. The beaches are more crowded than usual with reporters in rainsuits confirming that, yes, the beach is in miserable shape. Doppler images appear in the corner of every television screen.

And, when weather is not the story … well, then it’s time to take a look at the site. It gives electronic life to the phrase “government issue.” The maps look as if they are designed for cartographers. The buttons on the side make clear this site is not for the casual user who just needs to know when the big storm will hit.

Which leaves us to ponder the obvious question: If the NWS site is not for those in the path of storms, who is it for? And why does it exist? We don’t need government to warn us of big storms. A sizable and healthy industry – buoyed, unlike NWS, with the latest in technology to both gather the information and distribute it – exists for this purpose.

There is a joke of Onion dimensions in this story. But it’s not the one Boehlert thinks. The joke, as always, is on American taxpayers, whose leaders continue to ignore reality and preserve these relics that few need and even fewer use.

Like Irene, NWS’ time has passed. It is time for it to go. No joking.

Brian McNicoll

Brian McNicoll is a conservative columnist and freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.