Atmospheric emergencies and dutiful owls

My phone has had a stressful couple of weeks.

It hasn’t been put through any undue paces by me; my general phone activity hasn’t changed much from occasional calling, moderate tweeting, generous texting and more Reddit than any person should read.

No, my phone has been worried about the weather lately.

Over the last few weeks my phone has existed in a hyper vigilant state, alerting me to any potential storm, fire, or storm/fire conditions present in the three cities my phone believes I live in: Marshalltown, Ames and New York City.

I have been to New York City with this phone exactly once; apparently it really wants to go back.

Now, maybe my phone would be a little less stressed if I told it to stop alerting me to every single potential weather incident and just stick to the important alerts like “Tornado” or “Godzilla.”

Obviously this will not happen, for I know not how.

Instead my phone can find reprieve from its liapsophobia in the warm, inviting arms of a bespectacled owl wearing a sash.

His name is Owlie Skywarn and he is here to help you.

Long derided for having no unifying figurehead beyond Al Roker, the National Weather Service has created Owlie, a mascot whose namesake would lead one to believe he is here to tell people about the dangers of the sky.

Good on you, National Weather Service; for too long people have let the sky loom over them like the Sword of Damocles without so much as an unpaid intern in a furry costume to warn them otherwise.

Is this the best the National Weather Service, and by extension the Weather Channel (which no one, ever, will convince me are separate entities) can offer in way of mascots? Whatever happened to that animatronic mascot they had with the unbelievable name Sam Champion? Did he get hit by a bolt of lighting and think he was really alive?

Ok, I think we can all agree that Sam Champion is currently being hunted by the United States government for “further study.” But what of Owlie Skywarn? Will we all have to suffer through a series of public service announcements about not holding up golf clubs in a thunder strom, inevitably culminating in a half-hour Saturday morning cartoon special where Owlie and a couple of G.I. Joes tell me not to do drugs or walk to the store during a hurricane?

Fortunately, no.

Mascots, for all their puffery about being the living avatar of a brand, are often discarded soon after their inception, sometimes not soon enough.

Some mascots have staying power (Quaker Oats Man, Betty Crocker) some mascots don’t go away no matter how hard you try (Aunt Jemima, Flo) and some mascots you are absolutely certain Wikipedia is making up like regional grocery store Moo & Oink’s uninspired mascots Moo & Oink or that the Michelin Man has a name and that name is Bibendum.

You want to create a mascot that will stand the test of time? Eschew the normative approach to mascot creation (take an image people like, make that image to reference your product) and tap into what really makes a memorable mascot.

Three words: Avoid the Noid.

Anyone old enough to remember the 80s knows what/who I’m talking about, and just how much he made you want to reach into the television and strangle him with his own inexplicably rabbit-like ears.

What was he? Who knows. Did he make you want to eat Dominos pizza? Not at all. Do I still remember/hate him, years after the last Noid campaign aired? Absolutely.

“But Wes,” you say, as your hunger for pizza grows against your will, “that was 30 years ago, surely these giant corporations have learned since then and created nothing but delightful and positive mascots to aid their consumer base.”

Clippy; that is what I have to say to that.

Clippy, the incessant paper clip mascot for Microsoft Office, bears the dubious distinction of being the only digital creature to be the target of more unsuccessful assassinations than the Dog from Duck Hunt.

He was in no way helpful, ever, at anything. And yet, there he was, year in and year out, asking you if you were writing a resume when it was CLEARLY the latest revision of my foodie/espionage novella, “Flirting with Cooking with Disaster.”

If the National Weather Service was really interested in getting people talking about the weather they would stow Owlie Skywarn and come up with a mascot we can all really hate; or at least reboot Sam Champion after his power core goes offline.

Because the only thing worse than a bad mascot is … wait … My phone is alerting me to another weather emergency. Apparently Long Island and Northeast New Jersey are having wind gusts up to and including 40 mph. I’m sorry, I have some calls I need to make.

Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or