Our recent drenching, the East Coast blizzard and the latest cruise ship fiasco set me to thinking about weather prediction.
The 30-foot storm waves that broadsided a ship in the Mediterranean, causing it to roll precariously and terrify all on board, elicited a very predictable response from the ship’s captain. Onboard satellite imaging, radar and global positioning satellite navigation were not enough for this veteran of 35 years at sea to plot a course around the brunt of the storm, so he did what we all do when surprised by bad weather — blame the poor weatherman.
It brought to mind the tribulations of those hardy and unheralded souls who practice the thankless science of meteorology and must tolerate cynics who taunt them with claims that weather forecasting is still a few hours behind arthritis in predicting the weather.
In the interest of full disclosure, my brother Tom, now retired, served 35 years as a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in New York City, keeping the metropolitan area on its toes as nor’easters or blizzards approached.
Meteorologists, stockbrokers and Vegas odds makers are all subject to the same abuse. But if these other prognosticators could come anywhere near the 95% predictive accuracy of weather forecasters, they would be worshiped as superstars.
One “busted” forecast and these dedicated public servants are subjected to the barbs of local media and the dumb jokes of standup comics. The Big Apple has a particularly brutal history of bashing weathermen and “unelecting” politicians due to the whims of Mother Nature.
Mayor John Lindsay lost his job and his shot at the presidency as a result of too much snow and too few snowplows, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is experiencing déjà vu again. So in addition to the talking heads and comics, weather forecasters sometimes must take the fall for the incompetency of local politicians.
Consider the demands of a profession tasked with telling people how physically uncomfortable they are going to be, employing such terms as the misery/discomfiture index, the wind-chill factor, the UV and smog levels, i.e. cancer threats.
Weather service forecasters also take on the awesome task of educating the attractive young ladies and buff guys who appear daily on the tube. Explaining the concept of a cut-off low or a stationary front to someone who has concluded that an isobar is a local martini joint is truly a challenge. They are not all Al Rokers, whom my brother credits with making a genuine effort to understand the weather science behind the forecast he is about to give.
Nor can meteorologists escape the good-natured jibes of friends and family. His best buddy doesn’t hesitate to pointedly relate his near-death experience due to the drenching he suffered as a result of not bringing his bumper shoot and rubbers and the sniffles that ensued. He of course blames his near demise on the weather service and not the former Ms. Poughkeepsie he faithfully watches on the tube each night.
Ask this astute observer what the weather is going to be five minutes after “ogling” and he couldn’t tell you if his life depended on it. I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who makes a point of sampling each local network’s newscast in order to rank order the attributes of the station’s weather girl. He has made a virtual scientific study — not meteorological but rather measure-ological — of the assets of each.
Fortunately, my brother Tom is blessed with a great sense of humor, the humility to acknowledge the limitations of his calling and an unlimited tolerance for the inevitable side shots which everyone claims a right to hurl at their local weatherman.
His capacity to take the kidding and harassment in stride were probably honed early in life when he worked as a busboy, waiter, door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman and, most despicably, life insurance salesman.
PAT GRANT has lived in Glendale for more than 30 years and was formerly a marketing manager for an insurance company. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.