America’s Next Top Thunderstorm

The 100 Biggest Weather Moments.

Wonya Lucas, the head honcho at the Weather Channel, has declared it her goal “to expand the definition of weather by taking advantage of all its dimensions.” Part of the job is to make weather fun, feisty, glamorous—to make barometric pressure the new black. Thus does 100 Biggest Weather Moments (this Sunday through Thursday at 8 p.m. ET) apply the countdown-special formula to the elements.

The host, somehow aptly, is Harry Connick Jr. The guests are superstars, scientists, cult heroes, kitsch figures, celebrity weatherpersons, and fabulous cranks who file in to chat, as Connick says, about “the moments that inspired the human spirit, changed the way we think about our world, and, yes, even broke our hearts.” No, his producers aren’t shy about overreaching, which is only to be expected from a special whose bold logo and martial theme music are appropriate to a Super Bowl broadcast.

In fact, the countdown kicks off on the gridiron: At No. 100, football coach Don Shula laments his Dolphins’$2 3-0 loss to the Patriots during a blizzard on Dec. 12, 1982. The Patriots were able to score the field goal only because their snow-plow driver cleared a spot for the place-kicker during a timeout. “What I should have done in retrospect,” says Shula, “is run out onto the field and throw myself in front of the snow plow.” A sportscaster—Bob Costas, of course—tosses in the fact that the plow guy was a convicted criminal on a work-release program, and because the photo researchers on 100 Biggest Weather Moments are diligent and inventive, we get a glimpse of his mug shot. It’s a telling place to start, this misty sports-bar memory. The show loves small, deep trivia and tribal factoids. It makes a compelling meal from the variety meats of history’s buffet.

Making a sharp turn to the highbrow, we somehow arrive at a discussion of cold air, spruce wood, and the tonal quality of Stradivarius violins featuring Itzhak Perlman. Getting serious at No. 98, we revisit the severe flooding of the Midwest in 1993. The first hour also finds Dan Rather looking at William Henry Harrison’s inauguration, the wine columnists of the Wall Street Journal exploring the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, and, in a tribute to the invention of the hygrometer, both Al Sharpton and Mary Hart discussing bad hair days. The Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale gets an explication, as do the Battle of Dunkirk, the dimples on a golf ball, and the social history of the umbrella. The dork appeal is limitless.

One must suppose that Thursday’s hour of 100 Biggest Weather Moments will find Connick talking about his New Orleans and its Katrina. But the episode will have to be leavened with something: Pamela Anderson holding forth on the history of the tan line? John Lahr and Liza Minnelli exchanging parental reminiscences about tornadoes? As for the top spot, my money’s on the biblical flood, commentary by Billy Graham.

Once 100 Biggest Weather Moments has run its course, the program it’s displacing, Abrams & Bettes: Beyond the Forecast, will return to the schedule, and I will start leaving it on while making dinner. Possibly the sexiest show ever to receive a G rating, it seats its superfluously attractive hosts, Stephanie Abrams and Mike Bettes, in front of a U.S. map that glows in only entrancing shades of orange. Very often, they’re telling you the temperature in Atlanta or dispensing their many multiple-choice quizzes—”What is Milwaukee’s biggest April snowfall on record?”—above the electronic pulse of make-out music. The show rather feels as if they’re on a first date: They can’t think of anything to talk about but the weather, true, but they’re both meteorologists, so they share a flushed excitement that suggests the night is going swell.