Climate change

Accuracy suffers as climate change disrupts forecasts

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If you’re looking for the bright side of climate change, consider that it’s made weather forecasting fun again. And by fun, I mean bad.

Forty years ago, before meteorologists (the term referred to both genders) all got pumped up with their Doppler radar and their models and their bands and their cells, and started calling themselves ‘meteorologists’, the forecasts weather was a deliciously misguided business.

I don’t think many forecasters had degrees, and there was no reason to have one. To predict the weather on the east coast, all you have to do is look at the weather in St. Louis and tell yourself that it would eventually get here.

And it was fun. After a sloppy forecast, you might wire the radio station by calling and saying you just shoveled six inches of “partly cloudy” onto your sidewalk. Meteorologists walked on punchlines, and they just kind of rolled along, realizing they were more entertaining than scientific.

But then the forecasters got good, which took all the fun out of it. The forecasts were frightening. I had a contact at the National Weather Service, and she could tell me how much rain we were about to receive based on our mailing address, and be just within a tenth of an inch.

But not anymore. Climate change has once again made things wonderfully unpredictable, as Mother Nature teeters drunk in the streets. For a while, I thought it was just a local phenomenon. In the far north of New York, we have a lot of mountains, which can throw things off. And we don’t have enough staff to be able to afford our own forecasts, so we have to borrow Vermont’s.

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These folks are nice enough, but they always predict “torrential downpours” that never materialize, and if the proposed temps are within 10 degrees of the fact, we consider that a win.

But then I started to notice that it wasn’t just them. The website’s hourly forecast changes minute by minute as forecast conditions are erased and replaced by reality. It’s gotten so bad there’s no point in watching it anymore.

And I don’t think it’s going to get any better until we take the approach that they just used in Hungary, where, according The Washington Post, “Two senior officials from Hungary’s National Meteorological Service (NMS) were fired on Monday after severe storms they forecast for the capital on the country’s most important national holiday failed to materialize, passing more to the south.”

Professional meteorologists immediately shouted in protest, saying it sent a “chilling message” to forecasters who were wrong. Well OK Phil Connors, here’s what you do: Don’t get me wrong. We bet that future Hungarian forecasters will not make the same mistake.

No one will say, “Hmm, looks like these storms are going to miss Budapest, but you know what? Just for laughs, let’s call for a flood.

I suppose it was inevitable that the politics of anger would at some point turn its anger against nature. In Georgia, Herschel Walker criticizes trees; maybe if he gets elected he can fire a few foresters.

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But no matter how bossy you are, it’s hard to impose your will in the weather.

And once you start going down that path, it’s not too far to shoot weather forecasters to mark the path you wish the hurricane had taken with a Sharpie. And who can forget that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un got angry with his meteorologists because of a drought.

The weather doesn’t care about your propensity to imprison political opponents. A reputation for vengeance will not guarantee you sunny skies. But keep trying, it’s kinda cute, like a toddler waving his fist at the sky and shouting “Top waining!”

And about as effective.

Tim Rowland is a columnist for the Herald-Mail.