Driving to Colfax recently, the traffic warning sign on the west hill was blinking at me.
Wondering what was up, my navigator (Ruth) frantically tuned our radio to station 530 to hear what horrors awaited if we insisted on braving Highway 195.
In Pullman we were experiencing a very light drizzle of rain. Was there a blocking accident ahead? Perhaps a combine upside down blocking the highway?
Maybe there was a caravan of combines sauntering down the highway at 20 miles an hour. Perhaps a major storm descending from the west. Were there gully washers somewhere ahead? Perhaps a tornado or – gosh – had Mount St. Helen’s erupted again?
We wanted to know, and quick.
Imagine our surprise when we discovered the emergency was a week-long weather forecast with nothing for anyone but farmers to worry about. At this stage of harvest they don’t want even a heavy mist to interrupt grain harvest.
Perhaps someone in Olympia felt it urgent to tell Palouse farmers that they should be prepared to stop harvesting because of a 20 percent chance of rain. Yes, 20 percent. We heard it clearly.
Yes, there also was a small chance of a thunderstorm somewhere or another, we didn’t quite catch that because by that time we had brilliantly figured out that the weather forecast was regional.
I suppose the yellow lights on WSDOT’s big blue traffic advisory signs were working overtime throughout southeastern Washington. But, we made it to Colfax and back without incident.
Home, later in the afternoon, I was still in a kerfuffle over what to do about the person in Olympia WSDOT who thinks the warning system needs to be used whether or not there’s anything to warn about.
After some heavy cogitating I recalled our last drive, earlier this summer, to Eatonville on the west side and I realized that someone has lost their minds. Or, perhaps the decision was made by a committee.
Yes, by all appearances, such a decision could very well be made by a committee.
So, I felt the matter is in need of a column. Not that it will change the decision, but it may calm my mental kerfuffle.
Yes, on that trip to Eatonville we encountered not one, but several big blue signs with flashing lights and a message to turn on the radio.
We should have known better by then, but we fell for a ruse as we almost always do. The urgent message was to drive safely. It contained a long list of recommendations for safe driving.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider it very safe to drive while listening to irritating radio messages. So, my navigator switched the radio over to Sirius satellite radio and listened to some relaxing songs on Willie’s Roadhouse. Willie Nelson for the uninformed.
Now, I’ll put on my professional (communications) vestments and tell you why WSDOT’s decision is so dangerous.
The use of the WSDOT emergency radio system to broadcast anything but emergency travel warnings discourages travelers from tuning in to 530 or 1610.
Routine weather reports don’t constitute emergency warnings. Neither do safe driving tips learned in driver’s ed.
What’s next? Advertising?
Terence L. Day has lived in Pullman for 47 years. He retired in 2004, after 32 years of practicing communications for Washington State University.