Nothing grabs our attention quite like the weather forecast. The bad news from Syria or Washington may be important, but the bad news from right over our heads is much more compelling. Weather is real, and it becomes even more real at this time of year. We listen with horrified fascination to hear when and how our lives are going to be disrupted by various combinations of snow, ice, flood and wind.
My grandmother’s arthritis was as good as the National Weather Service when it came to predicting bad weather, and cats always seem to know when a storm is coming. Between my grandmother, the cat, and a piece of seaweed hanging outside the back door we always knew what tomorrow’s weather would be like when I was a kid.
After we lost grandmother and her seaweed I became addicted to weather forecasts on the radio, and later on television where they were delivered with the aid of static maps and little moveable symbols to indicate clouds, rain, isobars, and so on. It was almost a religious ritual for me, and was not even spoiled when my wife pointed out that British weather forecasts were always the same – some combination of unpredictable scattered showers and improbable sunny periods. It was true, but I couldn’t give up my forecasts They gave a soothing impression of predicting the future without ever spoiling the pleasant surprise when a completely different future actually arrived.
American weather is more dramatic, and perhaps for that reason the forecasts tend to be more catastrophic. Some weathermen and women, like some journalists, seem to think that their job is to create drama. Many stations – but not WSHU of course – jazz up their forecasts so that every warm day becomes a killer heat wave and any stiff breeze announces yet another storm of the century. The fact that these disasters rarely happen does nothing to dissuade these forecasters from acting like voices of doom every single day of the week.
It’s true that, exaggeration aside, forecasts have become more reliable because of satellite data and computer analysis. But any expert will tell you that eight hours is about the maximum limit of accurate prediction. Anyone who claims to foretell the weather for the whole of the coming week, or even long range for months ahead, is leaving science behind and entering the realm of prophecy.
This is fine as long as meteorologists act like prophets and keep their prognostications so broad and general that they can’t fail to be correct. Old Nostrodamus had this method down four centuries ago. He spent lot of time on the long-range weather forecast, foretelling for example that "The earth and air shall freeze" (meaning we will have cold weather, probably in January) or that "The heaven shall burn at five and forty degrees." Long Island is more or less on the forty fifth parallel, so it's clear that we should anticipate some warm weather, probably in August. Drought is also likely. "There shall be scarcity of rain" says Nostrodamus. Just to complete this amazing feat of meteorological prediction, he warns that "In the country shall be a long rain." So we can expect the drought to be broken by some wet weather.
But who needs Nostrodamus, or satellites, or seaweed when we know perfectly well what to expect? Even I can predict what the weather will be like for the next three months. It will be dreadful.
Copyright: David Bouchier