Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stick your head out of the window.

It looks as though the weather people (the so-called "meteorologists") are going to blow this one.
It is 11:41pm, and all I'm hearing is a lot of wind, which is similar to what the weather people have been spouting about the so-called "Snowicane" that we were supposed to get these last couple of days. I have not boarded-up my windows.
It's nice when they're correct, and they tell us so. They run ads on the local TV telling us how they are "the weather authority" and they stand around in their suits and ties (the men, anyway - the women are conspicuously absent) looking authoritative and dignified, as though what they said has some bearing on their overall intelligence. It's nice when they say they are right, even if their version of accuracy is made-up.
The last couple of storms, they have called for a foot or foot and a half, and we have gotten between 18 and 28 inches. By my calculations, they are about 30% off - if you go by the 28 inch mark. Still, they say they are the "authority."
On Wednesday, the Philadelphia schools were closed in advance of what they said was supposed to be 2 to 4 inches of snow overnight. What we got was some rain and zero inches on the roads, which were wet from rain and above-freezing temperatures. So, the kiddies got to stay home and watch the flurries. I'm still waiting for the first inch of snow to fall on a street or sidewalk - where it matters. Meanwhile, they told us to stay home "if you don't have to go out" as though we randomly wander the streets aimlessly, and businesses lost money because people stayed inside waiting for something that never happened. We're still waiting.
We will not see any TV ads or hear any proclamations about how authoritative their forecasts were. What we will hear are a lot of reasons and excuses as to why the storm did not do what they told us it would do, which is that it would cause widespread havoc.
Back in the early 1970s I was involved in a weather club in my junior high school. We used to use things like sling hygrometers, mercury barometers and other such analog equipment to make our own weather forecasts. Part of my job was to watch The Today Show and sketch the latest weather map from the TV screen before I came to school. We didn't have the Internet or any fancy radar equipment.
I wrote this (among other things) almost 4 years ago:
What I've noticed is that the local weather people have been introducing themselves as "Meteorologist [insert name]" much in the same way as a doctor would use the term "Doctor [insert name]". It seems to me to be a bit smug, since I place the television meteorologist on the same level as the Subway Sandwich Artist rather than my local General Practitioner, who may hold my life in his hands. I wondered about it so much that I looked into what it takes to be a TV Meteorologist. It's not much, as you could imagine.
The American Meteorological Society [AMS]
Seal Program consists of at least 12 semester hours of study in the atmospheric, oceanic, or related hydrologic sciences from an accredited institution of higher learning, and a $600 fee. We're talking about four 3-credit courses in a related science and some money.
So, the next time you see that fancy seal on your TV screen and hear them call themselves "meteorologists," take it with the necessary grain of salt - or three. They aren't all that different from the guy who mows your lawn or changes the oil in your car - and not as accurate either.
Our schoolboy forecasts, along with those of Dr. Francis Davis of our local ABC TV affiliate (channel 6) were done with the aid of our brain cells and the information we gathered. I had the privilege of meeting him at Drexel University as a part of a field trip that our school group did.
Now, in spite of what the talking heads tell you, the forecasts are done by big corporate entities (i.e. Accuweather) with things like Doppler radar and 3-D fly-by's that look nice on TV but do little else. Plus, they have the added benefit of an extra 35 years of collected data. Dr. Davis was an actual scientist, unlike today's so-called meteorologists, who merely take a few hours of classroom study and are proclaimed "AMA certified," which is similar to saying they can do CPR. Is that whom you want telling your kids to stay home from school? Apparently. It's all about TV, and has been for many years.
Why aren't they more accurate?

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