by Catherine Breese
Previously here at Alta Blue Skies we have expressed our annoyance with the weather forecasting community, specifically, their unaccountability. (See No Accountability: The Best Reason to Get a Career in Weather Forecasting). A couple of weeks back, our feelings of disgust were reignited. As we crawled along Interstate 81 in a blinding snowstorm, perhaps one of the worst we had ever driven in, we swore an eternal oath of infidelity to weather forecasters everywhere.
We were about 75 miles from home, and we had left that morning having dutifully checked the weather. The forecast was for a high of 45℉ with a slight chance of flurries–nothing that should stick. We left our heavy winter coats, scarves, and hats in the closet and took the fun little car with the low-profile sporty tires. The all-wheel drive sport utility vehicle sat idle in the garage.
Fast forward five hours. It is 25℉ and snowing sideways. Visibility is about 20 feet, and the road is completely snow-covered. We stare in horror as we pass a tractor-trailer facing the wrong direction in the median. Several cars share his fate on either side of the single lane of cars slugging along with their white knuckled drivers. Did I mention we were on Interstate 81, a major US north/south throughway? We are following behind some poor bastard in a Pontiac LeMans who might also have listened to the day’s weather forecast. We hoped he could see better than we could. We knew he couldn’t, but it was irrationally reassuring to believe that he could since he was in the lead. Lemmings. We debated staying in a motel in Wytheville, (the high school swim team bus behind us was forced to make this choice) but we had stayed in Wytheville before. That particular trip resulted in the family rule: never stay in a hotel/motel with a number in its name. We decided we would rather sleep in a car stuck sideways in a snow bank huddled together in our spring jackets than a dirty motel room.
We did eventually make it home safely. It was dangerous and horrible, and we were entirely relieved when we pulled into the garage.
“I could do better than the weatherman by guessing!” I exclaimed. Yes, I still utilize the sexist term weatherman–although a growing number of TV forecasters appear to be a herd of D-cupped, quaffed women with degrees in meteorology–or as a group, weathermen. (Yes, in my cerebral cortex certain language imprints exist as though I am a 75-year-old man. So, if the term “weatherman” offends, you may want to skip to the end because I am going to use it six times in the next three paragraphs.) Besides, most of us look at apps on our phones or to the Weather Channel’s scrolling news ticker for the weather forecast, rather than look to a human being on the 6 o’clock news team. Semantics aside, I think I can do better than the professional prognosticators by looking out the window and guessing.
Thus began the seven-day contest. Rules for the contest: record the weathermen’s forecast at 7a.m. each day. While driving to work, I dream up the day’s forecast by looking at the current temperature and general weather conditions as I roll along Route 11. When I arrive at work, I make the forecast. At the end of the day we record the actual weather conditions for the day and a winner is declared. I am to purposefully avoid discussions of the weather, radio or TV weather forecasts, or looking at an app. No radar, no barometer, no computer modeling–nothing except my five senses and my car’s thermometer. Bryan Ward would judge the winner each day.
At the end of the week, we tallied the results (see spreadsheet). And, in the battle of Sassy vs. the Weatherman, it was a tie. I was right three days, the weathermen were right three days, and one day was declared a draw because we were both equally wrong/right. Unlike kissing one’s sister, this tie is all victory for me. Oh, yeah! Sweet! Without any special knowledge or equipment, I was right as much as the weathermen were.
Do I think I have some special gift? Absolutely not. I have the same cultivated common sense of any person of my age. So, what’s my point? Weather forecasting is just guessing based on current circumstances, and frankly, the people who do it are wrong a lot. If they were doctors, you wouldn’t go to them for medical treatment.
However, it is hard to predict the weather…except in Hawaii. Weather forecasters are doing the best they can with the information they have. Their regular failure is reminder to us all that failure is a big, big part of life as a human being. If you are out there in the mix, living life fully, you are guaranteed to fail. And succeed. And fail again. Life’s not like overtime in the Final Four; it’s mostly a tie. Which is sweet.