WEATHER IS MORE FUN TO TALK ABOUT THAN TURKEYS
November 30, 2008
after Thanksgiving is too late to write about turkeys and too early to
write about reindeer. But weather is always with us, so I have decided
to revisit some of my musings on weather and the hapless people who try
to forecast what the weather will be.
Once I begin
talking about the weather, I invariably come to one of my pet peeves:
the foolishness that millions of people engage in every day when they
check the weather forecast. Note that I among those millions. When it
comes to checking the paper or watching TV to see what's in store for
the next day or the upcoming weekend (or more accurately, what the forecasters
say is in store) I am just one more in the herd.
when I'm writing about the weather I mention my cousin Steve, a meteorologist
who asserts that "nowcasting" is the only reliable weather report.
(Nowcasting means forecasting the weather for about the next six hours.
Within that time frame experts can indeed predict such meteorological
events as specific showers and thunderstorm with some degree of accuracy.)
Steve can cite meteorological research documenting 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 and paying attention to it? As Patrick
Young (whoever he might be) has said, "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."
verify just how unreliable long-range weather forecasts are with a simple
exercise? Check the newspaper and tape those five-day projections on your
refrigerator each day for a week. Five days later line up what happened
today with what was predicted five days ago. You will find the forecast
about rain or sunshine 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. This is of course an excellent
school project for a science class or a lesson on probabilities.
about the arcane art of predicting what clouds and wind will be doing
more than a hundred hours from now notwithstanding, like many people I
like to talk about weather--past, present, future. Despite the undeniable
fact that we have absolutely no control over the weather, finding someone
to exchange thoughts with on this topic is never difficult. Yet many a
barbed comment has been made about people who enjoy talking about the
who thought weather talk was inane and boring was that consummate wit
Oscar Wilde. "Conversation about the weather," said Wilde, "is
the last refuge of the unimaginative." 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 comment for those of us who find weather fascinating came
from Thomas Fuller, a British physician who died in the 18th century.
"Change of weather is the discourse of fools." Harsh words.
And though I have no way of knowing whether my conjecture is correct,
I'll bet that even Fuller sometimes discoursed about the weather.
animals that based their activities on the misguided belief they were
able to predict the weather eventually left no descendants. That kind
of thinking no longer exists in the animal kingdom, if it ever did. Except
of course for us humans. We persist in thinking that with better radar
or new meteorological instruments or more careful scrutiny of past weather
patterns, surely this time we will be able to make an accurate long-range
weather forecast. And who knows, maybe someday we will. But that day has
not arrived. Nonetheless, despite a lifetime of confirmation that a long-range
weather forecast is absolutely meaningless, I will pick up the newspaper
tomorrow morning to see what the weather report says is in store for this
week. The odds are good that you will too.
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