EDITORIAL: The art (or lack thereof) of weather forecasting

Feb. 13, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

In times like this, when weather events are the prime topic of discussion around the water-cooler and your favorite social media site, we like going through the exercise of choosing sides.

As in: “It’s going to be bad” versus “You’re over-reacting.” Or: “My weather guy is smarter than your weather guy.” Or, as we saw with Wednesday’s fast-moving winter snowstorm, it matters not whether we’re a red state or blue state, only that we’re a white state, in a treacherous state, and it's going to be that way until the sun and higher temperatures do their work on the roads right outside our doors.

Yes, when it comes to weather, we like to speculate and we like to end up being “right.” But the real fun, when it comes to weather, is the perpetual guessing game we all get to play.

Back when weather forecasting was more of a mystic activity than a science, those in “the know” figured things like temperature, rain, storms and such were static. Systems didn’t evolve, the experts of the day postulated, but rather remained constant, simply moving in clusters from place to place around the globe. (And before that, before we figured the world was round, across the flat expanse of the Earth, to the four corners.)

Then we got a little smarter and started to sort things like barometric pressure and prevailing winds out, though even today the science and art of forecasting – even our understanding of some facets of atmospheric conditions – is still relatively infantile.

The debate about global warming has morphed into discussion (often not nice) about climate change, but the conversations are still generally the same as they always have been. Who among us doesn’t like to speculate? Armed with a copy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac or a bum knee or some rheumatoid arthritis or the most up-do-date weather app or just our memories of past storms, we fashion ourselves as prognosticators of the highest order. We guess, then we wait.

But in the end it’s still guesswork. The elements which work together to create weather do so in flux, and, as we have seen in Central Carolina the last few weeks, we just have to roll along and do our best to stay warm, dry, safe and smart. For no matter what happens, ultimately the sun will come out, we’ll have seasons, we’ll have storms, and occasionally – like this week – we’ll have to dig ourselves out.