Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Epiphany #28: I Get A Shiver In My Bones Just Thinkin'...

About the weather.

It is true that I live in a city where it is notoriously difficult to predict the weather.  Chattanooga's mountains can act like Moses parting the Red Sea, sending the weather we were supposed to get to the North and South of us, so this is not some criticism, some pile-on of our hapless local weather people who must feel like the gods are toying with them.  This is just an observation.

No one has gotten the weather right for the entire (so far ) calendar year of 2014.  When I reflect on the significant weather events, like snows or storms, none of them have played out the way that they were supposed to.  Some caught us completely by surprise.  Some were so underwhelming that we almost found ourselves irritated that they didn't happen.

But it isn't our local folks who are befuddled; it's everyone.  Even as The Weather Channel has built a kind of "weather monopoly," a stranglehold on "the bad stuff ahead," their empire has only succeeded in making them look somewhat foolish.  At least around here.

The Weather Channel traffics in fear.  The more afraid we are, the more we watch to find out what we should be afraid of.  But if you watched them ahead of the onset of their litany of now-named winter storms, as often as not, their warnings turned out to be overblown and shrill.  Not that it's a bad thing to take precautions, but if you want to be taken seriously, those precautions need to pay off sometimes.

In this neck of the woods, though, the 10-day forecast is a complete joke.  Five days ahead feels like a horoscope, where enough general predictions mean that something has to come true.  Tomorrow is a coin toss.  And, because I'm writing this based on today, what The Weather Channel and local weather persons had to say this morning didn't turn out to be true for this afternoon, which throws the whole technology into doubt.

In the last few days, the first big storm didn't turn out to be more than heavy rain; the second big storm didn't happen at all, and, then, the eventual clearing took a lot longer to get here than what we were told.  Even hours earlier.

This is not the first time. This is the whole year.  And in an area that was rocked by tornadoes just a couple of years ago, hyperbolic predictions are dangerous, because we will get complacent when we should actually be scared.

Again, though, no blame.  My worry is much grander.  I have this nagging, increasing fear that the weather can no longer be predicted with any accuracy because we have screwed up the environment so badly that models and statistics are already becoming obsolete.  What has happened in the past seems not to apply to what might happen tomorrow, based on today.

I know that's alarmist thinking, and maybe no better than The Weather Channel.  Except that I have no market share to worry about and no statistical expertise to rely on.  All I know is that time and time again for at least the past five months, weather predictions have gotten it so badly wrong as to be completely worthless, and I wonder if the same alarm bells I hear are ringing in places that do weather for a living but that can't, for reasons both economic and societal, admit to us that they have no idea what is going on.


troutking said...

The other Bob agrees with you: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." You are probably right. The wind blows toward worse and worse disasters that will cost us many times more than the supposedly too expensive, economy-wrecking measures that would have stopped global warming. Lucky Fox News is around every time there's a cold snap to ask, "Where's your global warming now, Al Gore?"

goofytakemyhand said...

To Bob:

An analogy.

Meteorologists : Severe Weather :: Mel Kiper, Jr. : NFL Prospects

Bob said...

Come to think of it, Mel Kiper even kind of looks like a weather man. Or something. But, yeah, I can't believe anyone hangs on his every word like people seem to.

Robert Berman said...

I'd be interested to see long-term data as to the accuracy of weather prediction. My anecdotal recollection is that forecasts are far more accurate now than when I was a kid, at substantially greater distance in to the future. I don't remember being able to plan next week's trip packing based on a ten day forecast, for instance.

Still, not for nothing is April the cruelest month! We visited Manhattan last week and found it impossible to be both acceptably warm in the morning but acceptably cool in the afternoon without altering a layer of clothing, which was difficult when we were out and about on foot.