Plus: a real-life Bush moment
After a few months of mild weather, winter finally arrived over the weekend. And to celebrate its arrival, local media did their absolute best to send the entire city into a snow-related panic. I have absolutely no faith in meteorologists. If they tell me there’s going to be 4 inches of snow, I figure the actual snowfall will range between nothing and 15 inches.You could see the excitement on the faces of the TV weather people as they described the approaching storm, its severity and its potential to kill us all. It was like an alcoholic who’s been denied booze for a year walking into a liquor store with a $100 gift certificate.
I don’t mind the TV people getting all excited about the snow, I suppose. There are far more perverse things to get excited about. Necrophilia, for example. Or being a fan of ’70s music. Both are worse than being a weather junkie.
But what I do mind is that, despite all of the new technology at their disposal, weather forecasts are far less accurate than they ever were.
As of last Thursday, the weather forecasts were calling for snow all weekend, with a high temperature of 41 on Saturday. Instead, we got highs in the 20s and no snow until Sunday, when we got close to 5 inches.
As I write this on Monday, they’re forecasting another 3 to 5 inches of snow on Tuesday. That means by the time you read this, it’ll be sunny and in the 70s.
Now, on one hand, I applaud these unreliable forecasts. I’m all in favor of causing a mass panic. There are few things more entertaining than the general populace running around and screaming that Mother Nature is about to murder them in cold blood.
I did my part on Saturday by walking around Kroger and muttering about the new blizzard warning. “You’ll be lucky to get out of the house by Thursday,” I told one person in the bread aisle, and they snatched two extra loaves just in case I was right.
But something doesn’t compute here. 25 years ago. TV stations were lucky to have a single black-and-white radar system and their forecasting computers were about as powerful as a Ms. Pac-Man machine. Still, they were able to tell you how much snow you were going to have to shovel out of the driveway and what the temperature would likely be.
The TV stations now own Doprad 9000 Colorcast Megaview Actioncasts, spend thousands of dollars on staff meteorologists and make sure their on-air personalities have the best makeup available. But they’re still wrong at least as frequently as they are right.
Given their record over the past few years, I have absolutely no faith in meteorologists. If they tell me there’s going to be 4 inches of snow, I figure the actual snowfall will range between nothing and 15 inches. If they say it’s going to be 50 degrees, I know the actual temperature will be between 30 and 80 degrees.
I spent a few hours on the Web looking up the accuracy of forecasts. The National Weather Service claims a rate of about 80 percent in their short-range predictions.
Given the fact they’re a government agency, you can figure they’re overestimating that by at least 30 percent. That means they’re going to be correct a little more than half the time in their short-range predictions and far less accurate in longer-range forecasts.
At that rate, you may as well flip a coin.
Hail to the chefHoward Dean’s screech after the Iowa caucuses last Monday night has become an urban legend by now, but the current president pulled an equally bizarre stunt in Roswell, N.M., last Thursday.
The following transcript is real — you can look it up on the White House Web site — and took place during a photo op at the Nothin’ Fancy Cafe.
THE PRESIDENT: I need some ribs.
Q: Mr. President, how are you?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m hungry and I’m going to order some ribs.
Q: What would you like?
THE PRESIDENT: Whatever you think I’d like.
Q: Sir, on homeland security, critics would say you simply haven’t spent enough to keep the country secure.
THE PRESIDENT: My job is to secure the homeland and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. But I’m here to take somebody’s order. That would be you, Stretch — what would you like? Put some of your high-priced money right here to try to help the local economy. You get paid a lot of money, you ought to be buying some food here. It’s part of how the economy grows. You’ve got plenty of money in your pocket, and when you spend it, it drives the economy forward. So what would you like to eat?
Q: Right behind you, whatever you order.
THE PRESIDENT: I’m ordering ribs. David, do you need a rib?
Q: But Mr. President —
THE PRESIDENT: Stretch, thank you, this is not a press conference. This is my chance to help this lady put some money in her pocket. Let me explain how the economy works. When you spend money to buy food it helps this lady’s business. It makes it more likely somebody is going to find work. So instead of asking questions, answer mine: Are you going to buy some food?
THE PRESIDENT: OK, good. What would you like?
THE PRESIDENT: Ribs? Good. Let’s order up some ribs.
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