The other day, dozens of tornados swept through the Midwest. Lives lost. Property destroyed. Such widespread and severe storms are unusual this late in the year.

Having recently moved, this was the first storm I would watch from a high-rise condo. I wondered if we’d need to go to a safer place.

The local TV stations were in full alert mode. Every pixel pulsed with radar maps, time lapse videos, vertical scrolls of towns in the storm’s path, anticipated arrival times. Horizontal crawls with counties under a warning or watch and, of course, banners that informed us of breaking news.

Flipping from station to station, I couldn’t find a single weatherman or meteorologist with helpful information. Each was talking faster than the other, a nonstop stream of towns and wind speeds and on-the-ground storm spotters.

I just wanted to know if a tornado was headed my way. 

I opened the sliding door to the balcony. It was windy, but not howling; raining, but not pouring. What I heard and saw did not match the frenzy on the screen.

Then sirens began to wail. Staying with the same station, I waited. But the constant chatter didn’t stop. 

Seven long minutes later: “If you’re hearing sirens in Hamilton County, they aren’t for you.” They were for activity to the south, for a front that had since moved to the east.

OK. Thanks. That was helpful.

What were the station managers’ communication objectives? 

I’m sure each would profess intent to keep listeners safe. But I’d say their programming choices addressed their hidden objectives: to convince me that their station has the smartest weather person and the snazziest technology.

Hidden communication objectives are fine. We all have them. But when they get in the way of delivering a message, there is no communication at all.

A dangerous place to be in the middle of a storm.