The Oaks Ignore Their Pleas

The Unpredictability of Weather

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on January 22, 2014

As I write this, my kids are in bed, and in a few moments, when I go to wake them up for school, they’re going to be really disappointed.  After two days of watching local forecasters predict a “big winter storm”, with 8-10 inches of snow forecast for our area, I’m looking out the window at about 2 inches of fluff.  The plows never even made it out for this one, at least here.  

There’s no doubt that this storm was big – just south of Boston, a number of communities were approaching the 1 foot mark for snow totals before midnight last night, and by the looks of the radar on, it’s still snowing in a lot of those places.  But this storm stayed a lot further south than forecast, or perhaps, as one local meteorologist surmised last night, the dry arctic air being pulled down from the north prevented a lot of the snow from falling north of Boston.  

Either way, this winter is demonstrating rather convincingly how challenging meteorology forecasts are, even in today’s era of “big data”, satellite recon, and huge amounts of processing power.  A few weeks ago, we ended up on the other end of the weather stick, when a similar storm dropped almost two feet of snow at our door, when forecasters were calling for much less snow.  Just this past weekend, a “dusting” of snow turned into about 4 inches of heavy, wet snow, and even the local meteorologists were joking on Twitter about how the storm defied their predictions. 

I’m pretty sure that forecasts are more accurate today than they were 10 years ago – within a two day window, I think the forecasts are largely fairly accurate.  But I also think our expectations are raised, in this age of instant information, and unsurpassed processing power.  If we can ask Siri or Google who won the American League batting title in 1928 (Goose Goslin, who won it on the last day of the season), then we start to expect that same accuracy about the future.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature is still fickle, or perhaps more accurately, there are still far too many variables that impact the weather than we can model in our computers.  Perhaps someday we’ll be able to call snow days in advance of storms with precision, but for now, my kids are going to be surprised some days, and disappointed others.  Such is life…

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