THE WEATHER IS getting out of hand.

I don't mean El Nino, the recent heat wave in Texas or even global warming.I mean our obsession with "the weather."

Because we have satellites, balloons and state-of-the-art gauges for wind and rain, because we can see systems and fronts coming at us from thousands of miles away, because meteorologists are now as common as clouds, you would think we invented weather.

Worse, we behave as though all this information means we should have control when Mother Nature starts kicking butt.

As a result, a lot of weather information now acts like a bad prescription drug - the kind that ends up aggravating the very condition it's supposed to heal.

Why do people want to know what the weather might be?

So we can be prepared. With umbrellas and new windshield wiper blades. With lightweight clothing and salt tablets. With fresh drinking water in our basement if we live in tornado country. With a high place to store our keepsakes if we live on a flood plain. With plywood for our windows if hurricanes come our way.

Preparation is supposed to make us feel more secure. But tune in to any weather forecast. TV, commercial radio, citizens band, network, cable or local: They're all some variation on Chicken Little.

The sky is falling - or it could, so stay tuned to us forever lest you be caught unprepared.

Last week, as a fairly typical July heat wave began to inundate the San Francisco Bay Area, the No. 1 news story on local TV stations was the weather. No one had died of it and it was nowhere near the severity of the awful (but not unprecedented) heat wave in Texas. But that was no reason to relax.

"Danger!" and "Be prepared!" were everyone's message. One station featured a paramedic ticking off the signs of and ways to avoid heat stroke. ("If you pass out, you definitely should call us.")

As so often happens these days, the top of the news offered a brief appearance by each meteorologist. Whenever the slightest variation in weather occurs, meteorologists are used like scantily clad girls who stand in front of strip joints - just a little teaser to hook customers into investing in the whole show.

The obsession is not confined. Last month, when I was visiting in the Midwest, a storm front came in one evening. No matter which TV station my parents were watching, warnings scrolled across the bottom of the screen or flashed in little squares at the top.

"Thunderstorm Watch!" "Thunderstorm Warning!" "Tornado Watch!"

With more than 60 channels, it was difficult to tell which county or region was under threat for what.

"You have to wait for someone to show a map," my mother said. "We go through this all the time."

Thus my parents bought a radio that has its own weather warning band. Just as we were sitting down to dinner, it emitted a hideous "weeeaahhhh," which prompted my dad to fetch it from the bedroom and put it on the kitchen table. (Bon appetit.)

Repeatedly a voice broke through to warn of high winds and thunderstorms. No kidding. One look outside at the whipping trees and roiling gray sky told me that.

When the storm came, no amount of preparation could change the fact that it was scary. Next morning, there were power lines down all over town. Scores of maples and sycamores were pulled right out of the ground.

There had been no tornado - the meteorologists' predictions were correct - but winds gusting up to 80 mph made that a technical detail for many folks. Not to mention the trees.

Three people I know did get hurt; they received mild burns when lightning struck their outdoor yard lights and traveled through the line into their den.

Find me the satellite that could have warned them about that.