Imagine a meeting of editors sitting around a table, most with electronic information devices at hand, as well as at least three newspapers. Here's how people talk about the weather:
Editor 1: We've been working on a story about how the mild winter so far has really hurt some businesses and individuals that rely on snow for their income. With the snow that's predicted for tomorrow, we'll adapt it to see whether this will be enough to save things for them.
Editor 2: Wow. And it's supposed to get up to 50 degrees today.
Editor 3: How much snow are we expecting?
Editor 4: This paper says a couple inches.
Editor 1: I heard more than that, but it's supposed to be really cold, so this will be a story about winter finally arriving.
Editor 5: This paper says they're expecting around 6 inches. It could get really nasty.
Editor 6: Six inches? Why do we live here again?
[General laughter suggesting grudging agreement with the sentiment.]
Editor 3: When's it supposed to start?
Editor 5. Sometime around midnight tonight and continue all day tomorrow.
Editor 2: Actually, I think the latest report is that it's going to start tomorrow afternoon.
Editor 5: I heard midnight tonight.
Editor 2 (peering into laptop screen): Well, it says here flurries starting in the afternoon tomorrow.
Editor 1: Now, they're saying we're going to get 8 inches.
Editor 4: Eight inches!? Thirty seconds ago it was two.
Editor 3: If we talk about it long enough, I'm sure we'll have it up to 14 in just a few minutes.
[More nervous laughter. Everybody wondering,"Could it be 14? What if it's just two?"]
Editor 6: Is there something more we should be doing? What will people be talking about?
Editor 2: It's not for tomorrow, but we're planning to get out to various places around the suburbs and take pictures of what people are doing today on the 50-degree day, and then go back tomorrow to those same places when it's blowing and there's four to six inches of snow on the ground.
Editor 1: Eight inches.
Editor 3: Well, maybe two inches, but blowing.
Editor 4: If it starts tomorrow.
Editor 5: Hey, it may start tonight.
Editor 2: Well it may be a bust, but whenever it starts, however much we get, it should be a fun contrast.
Editor 1: And, of course, we'll talk about safety and driving and commutes and all that.
A newspaper, we all know, is not high art, but why do I feel like I'm caught on stage in a play by Samuel Beckett?
We like to laugh at ourselves every winter and ridicule the size of our headlines, the sense of shock and awe at the amount of snowfall or the frigidity of the temperatures. This is, we remind ourselves, Chicago in January, after all.
But the incredible mildness so far in the winter of 2011-12, coming off the incredible brutality of the winter of 2010-11 and the predictions just a few weeks ago of even bigger disaster will make this an unusually interesting winter storm story to follow.
Of course, as i write this, I don't know how much snow we're getting or when it will arrive, if it hasn't already, but I can tell you this: We'll help you deal with it when it comes, and we'll have great stories, pictures and video to share.
Jim Slusher, email@example.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.