Peter Powell

Contractors are notorious weather watchers. Hot waves or cold spells could mean stepped-up work to keep air conditioners and furnaces up and running. Severe weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and hail could mean emergency services are required to both batten down mechanical equipment before rough weather, then inspect for damages and possible restarts afterwards.

As I noted in a story I wrote published in the July 20 issue of The NEWS, contractors like to have long-range forecasts so they can get a rough idea of staffing needs or inventory for months ahead.

Yet, I have always had a problem when it comes to weather forecasts: I don’t trust them, whether they are 90 days ahead, two days from now, or two hours from now.

A local radio station used to have a morning program host that gave the middle name ‘Your Guess Is As Good As Mine’ to the staff meteorologist. The weather guy seems to be wrong as often as he was right.

I’m sure you have your stories about weather folks on television and the radio who can’t seem to get forecasts right even hours ahead. Mine includes an announcer reading a local meteorologist’s forecast about clear weather all day, while rain was pounding down right outside the window of the station. At least the announcer had the good sense to question the accuracy of what he was reading.

Another pet peeve is putting rain into virtually every forecast to ensure that when it eventually does rain, the weather person can say, “See?”

Two recent developments related to weather concerns: High tech equipment being brought in to make predictions, along with the desire of many forecasters, especially on television, to create as much panic as possible with any pending storm system.

In one respect the technology does seem to allow for better tracking especially if rough weather is imminent. A system can be tracked town by town as it moves along its path, with warnings for possible tornadoes or hurricanes down to a few minutes. Often the weather folks stay on the air showing the radar, and issuing warnings to take shelter. It is a valuable service and most appreciated. Living in the Midwest, we, from time to time, do take shelter in the basement based on a forecaster’s prediction of a possible tornado.

But the desire of weather persons on television and radio to tease upcoming forecasts seems to be getting more and more prevalent. “Will rain ruin your weekend plans? Details at 10.” “Will snow shovels be needed in the morning?” “How rough will your commute be? Find out after these six minutes of commercials.”

During the late evening local newscasts, the weather guy or gal will come on near the start amidst elaborate graphics to ‘tease’ and say nothing. The person then comes back 10 minutes later and says nothing except that he and she will say something after a couple more minutes of commercials. There are even forecasters on hour-long local newscasts who ‘tease’ the forecast for 30 minutes, then provide a 24-hour forecast and wait another 28 minutes to give the seven-day.

The actual forecasts come after light hearted banters with the news anchors, and are often the most negative, worst case forecasts. “Build an ark. It’s going to rain and rain. Forget about those Little League games, the family cookout, and that outdoor wedding you’ve been looking forward to for all your life. It’s going to rain and rain and rain.” Then it doesn’t rain, or maybe just drizzles for a few seconds at the most.

This is why I appreciate the wisdom of contractors who carry around their own hand-held weather scanners, which show pending severe weather. Many have made themselves experts in how to read the radar.

And therein lay the secret to getting the most accurate short-term forecasts: Do it yourself.

But as to the long range predictions, the best advice is to take heed these words from theOld Farmers Almanac. “It is obvious that neither we nor anyone else has yet gained sufficient insight into the mysteries of the universe to predict long-range weather with anything resembling total accuracy.”

Publication date:08/10/2009