Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Forecast Roulette

I am enjoying a nice vacation on the coast of Connecticut, at a cottage my family owns in South Lyme. To kick off the vacation, this past weekend I hosted friends for a beach BBQ on Saturday and Sunday.

I have decided that if one is hosting a BBQ, it's necessary to invite a meteorologist. I used to say I would invite a doctor, lawyer and mechanic. The doctor is in case I do something to myself, the lawyer is in case I do something to someone else, and the mechanic is in case I do something to equipment vital to the event.

A meteorologist is now on the list.

Let's just say that last week was not a good week for New England meteorologists. And that drove me crazy. On Wednesday morning (three days ahead of the BBQ), I checked no less than seven forecasts. All of them were different. Twenty-four hours later, on Thursday morning, they were all in agreement. It was going to pour on Saturday. A regular wash-out. Make no mistake, one meteorologist wrote on his station's website, "the rain is coming."

Saturday ended up being a fantastic day, even though the rain scared away two of the BBQ's attendees. By 11 a.m., it was sunny and in the mid-70s along the Connecticut shore.

Now I must say that I know the weather is fickle, especially in the Summer and especially in New England. However, my suggestion is the forecasters should note in their predictions that they really don't have a clue what the weather will be further than 24 hours out.

As an example, I took the liberty of recording the Connecticut forecasts twice a day during the week last week, and for the purposes of this exercise I will show you below what those forecasts predicted for Saturday (as well as my reactions to each). To protect the innocent, I will not say where the forecasts are from, but I can tell you they were all from the same source.



Saturday: Mix of sun and clouds. Low: 61. High: 82.

Sunday: Partly to mostly cloudy with a chance of showers. Low: 62. High: 79.

[OK, I can deal. My first check of the forecast and it looks ok. Better order extra hot dogs. Also, better expect people will leave early Sunday if they stay over.]


Saturday: Mostly cloudy with scattered showers and thunderstorms possible. Low: 66. High: 81.

Sunday: A mix of sun and clouds. Low: 66. High: 83.

[Ahem? Where did the clouds come from on Saturday? Must be a glitch in the system. It will be back on track tomorrow.]


Saturday: Cloudy with a chance of showers and thunderstorms. Highs in the upper 70s. Chance of rain 50 percent.

Saturday Night: Cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers. Lows in the mid 60s.

Sunday: Partly sunny. A chance of showers in the morning. Highs in the lower 80s. Chance of rain 30 percent.

Sunday Night: Partly cloudy. Lows around 60.

[Crap. What's the difference between mostly cloudy and cloudy? Now there's a "chance" for storms, whereas on Tuesday night, it seemed definite there would be storms. Why can't it be Tuesday morning again? I was happy then.]


Saturday: Showers with thunderstorms likely. Cooler. Humid with highs in the mid 70s. Northeast winds around 5 mph. Chance of rain 80 percent.

Saturday Night: Showers likely with a chance of thunderstorms in the evening, then a chance of showers after midnight. Patchy fog. Lows in the lower 60s. Chance of rain 60 percent.

Sunday: Patchy fog in the morning. Partly sunny. Highs in the lower 80s.

Sunday Night And Monday: Partly cloudy. Lows around 60. Highs around 80.

[Screw the clouds, it's going to rain. This BBQ is going to be a washout. Should I cancel? Maybe I should move to Sunday? Do I have boardgames at the cottage? Do people still play Chutes & Ladders?]


Saturday: Scattered showers and thunderstorms in the early morning, then mostly sunny. Another chance for storms in the afternoon with clearing tomorrow

night. Low: 60. High: 82.

Sunday: A mix of sun and clouds. Low: 60. High: 83.

[God must have listened to my voice message that I left last night! However: "Mostly sunny"? That's pretty dramatic from scattered showers earlier in the day. I will take it, I guess.]


Again, I know that weather forecasters have a tough job, but what irks me, and probably many others like me who had outside events last weekend, is that each forecast is presented as if it's absolute. The forecast for Saturday that was given on Tuesday morning was written in the same tone as the Saturday forecast published on Friday.

Shouldn't they attach a level of probability to each? I wouldn't mind it if they inserted text in front of the forecast that said, "No one has a clue what's going to happen on Saturday, but if you ask me to take a swing at it, here goes." I would actually respect the forecaster more for such a tone.

For the record, it was a nice weekend, and thanks to my friends the event was a very memorable affair. I thank them for that. I also thank Mike Binder, one of the guests, for nailing the forecast on Thursday afternoon, when he told the group that the coming storm would clear out.

You see, I did invite a meteorologist to my BBQ. And I am happy I did.

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