WEATHER IS MORE FUN TO TALK ABOUT THAN GLOBAL WARMING
by Whit Gibbons
November 26, 2006
after Thanksgiving is too late to write about turkeys or pumpkins and
too early to write about reindeer or poinsettias. But one subject is always
appropriate for an environmental column and requires no special occasion--the
weather. (In truth, I may have been prompted to write about the weather
because I spent four exhilarating hours this morning walking around in
a wetland checking animal traps in a sleeting rain.) Like Rachel Carson,
I agree that "a rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods."
I also find truth in the words of John Ruskin, 19th-century British poet
and art critic: "There is really no such thing as bad weather, only
different kinds of good weather."
think I am about to launch into the polarizing issue of whether global
warming is real, imagined, or a carefully crafted plot by Bill Clinton
or the pope. The weather itself is a worthy environmental topic. My only
allusion to climate change in this column is a quote from Mark Twain:
"Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get."
So if the
column isn't about global climate change, what is it about? It's about
people (like me) who enjoy talking about weather and others (not like
me) who don't, and a few comments on our puzzling fascination with weather
forecasting. In other words, it's just some unharnessed thoughts about
think even talking about the weather is inane and boring. I do not agree.
But in the spirit of full disclosure here are some points of view from
the other side. Oscar Wilde stated that “conversation about the
weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” And Kin Hubbard,
an Indiana humorist said, "Don't knock the weather. If it didn't
change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn't start a conversation."
Perhaps the most hurtful statement to those of us who find weather fascinating
came from the insensitive words of Thomas Fuller, a British physician
who died in the 18th century. "Change of weather is the discourse
of fools." Hey, back off, some of us like weather talk, even if it's
just a healthy way to complain.
seem to be able to talk about the weather without mentioning the foolishness
of something I do each day, along with several billion other people, which
is check the weather forecast. Not just for the day, but for the week,
yet! Why do we continue to pay any attention to a weather forecast? My
cousin Steve, who is a meteorologist, asserts that "nowcasting"
is the only reliable weather report. He notes that meteorological studies
have documented that the prediction that the weather tomorrow will be
exactly like it was today is more likely to be right than any other predictions
that are made. So why do we all keep checking the weather report? Someone
named Patrick Young has part of the answer: "The trouble with weather
forecasting is that it's right too often for us to ignore it and wrong
too often for us to rely on it."
proof of how unreliable long-range weather forecasts are? Tape those five-day
projections on your refrigerator each day for a week then line up what
happened today with what was predicted five days ago. You will find the
earlier forecast about whether it would rain was right about as many times
as it was wrong. Flip a coin and your chances will be as good at predicting
whether it will rain or not rain five days from now.
between wild animals and humans is that animals that based their survival
on the misguided belief that they were able to predict the weather eventually
left no descendants. That kind of thinking no longer exists in the animal
kingdom, except for humans. Nonetheless, despite a lifetime of confirmation
that a long-range weather forecast is absolutely meaningless, I still
routinely check to see what the magical weather report says is in store
for us. How else would I know the perfect time to wander through a wetland
checking animal traps?
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