Friday, June 14, 2013

Sunny Days, Chasing the Clouds Away

Back in ye olden days, prognosticating the future was a hanging offense. I would like to bring that punishment back, particularly in regard to meteorologists.

I understand that accurately predicting violent weather eruptions is next to impossible. This was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt when respected and revered scientist and storm chaser Tim Samaras lost his life when a tornado he was tracking zigged instead of zagged, taking him, his driver Carl Young, and his son Paul with him. I can only hope that they wound up in the land of the great and powerful Oz and did not suffer when the tornado took them. They were just following a storm, just trying to glean more information about what causes tornados so that in the future, they could give towns more than 16 minutes  to seek shelter. While you can do a lot with 16 minutes, or the exact amount of time between the National Weather Service warning to the residents of Moore, Oklahoma and when the tornado destroyed their town, but think of how much more you could do with 20 or 30? I have nothing but respect for Tim and what he died trying to do. May he rest in peace.

But that was a big and wild storm, filled with craziness. What about those calm and mild days when the weather people still don't seem to be able to read a radar screen? What do we do about those people? I will never forget a random Saturday where it was supposed to be 80, sunny, and mild and it turned out to be 60, overcast, and damp. I was expected a tan, instead I wore a jacket. I remember being absolutely amazed that the weather guys were wrong on not just one, or two, but all THREE counts. Can you imagine if you were wrong that spectacularly and publicly at your job? Your ass would be out the door with a cardboard box of your personal items in ten minutes.

The best part is that this happens daily. I spent the last week hearing about how terrible Thursday was going to be with wicked storms all day long. I went so far as to pick up a case of water and clean my house. (My thought process on the latter was that if wind and hail caused anything to land on my house and damage it, I didn't want to walk an obstacle course of Lego mini-figs and Babysitter Club books to get to the mess.) I woke up with a sense of dread, waiting to see what foul weather would come. The morning storm brought on a level of darkness only seen during full eclipses. As my phone blew up with weather alerts about hail, winds, flash flooding, rain of frogs, etc., I carefully moved a chair out from under the skylights, put on Sesame Street on PBS so that I could get the storm updates while my very calm son watched Elmo, and waited for the storm to hit. My husband, whom I have often asked if he even has a window in his office, so rarely does he notice what happens outside it, even texted me to comment on how dark it was and warn me to keep my phone charged. Do you want to know what happened next?

A thunderstorm passed by. It rained, for a little bit. It hailed teeny tiny drops of ice for a teeny tiny amount of time. A few trees swayed and some leaves and maybe a few small branches fell off them. The streets got wet. It was a little loud and a little bright out. Then the storm passed, the sun actually came out and all was right with the world. It was not Armageddon. It wasn't even the Michael Bay version. It was just a thunderstorm. But wait! More storms were to come! And they would be louder, and wetter, and messier, and oh, humph, I guess they went to our south because all we got was some rain. Hmm. So much for Thunder Thursday.

Seriously, if the weather people are going to hit DefCon 4 every single time the radar lights up, it is going to be a very, very long summer. While I just made up the phrase Thunder Thursday, I am positive some dim-witted weather guy contemplated using it. We now get named snow storms (which again, almost never, ever hit expected snow total within six inches in either direction), as if anyone is going to start talking about the days when Snowstorm Stupidhead hit. People remember snowstorms in terms of what they cancelled. The storm that cancelled the Christmas concerts, or the ones that messed up a weekend away, or that one that closed school the day of the big test. We don't need a name for it, we already gave it a memory. Hurricanes deserve names because hurricanes fuck shit up in such a massive way, you need to be definitive about it. Sandy destroyed the shore. Katrina destroyed New Orleans. It puts a succinct name to a succinct action. But snowstorms? Pshaw.

I don't think being a meteorologist is easy. However, I think that the current Chicken Little method of prediction has got to go. When I was growing up, you checked the sky for storms. Last year, at my local pool, we were all playing bingo happily and rather loudly on a sunny, warm night. The pool is completely enclosed in a glen of trees, so visibility isn't great in terms of approaching storms, but the wind was calm and quiet. Within minutes, the wind started whipping, the temperature started dropping, and my daughter started crying. We all gathered our stuff and immediately headed out of the door. Once past the parking lot and overlooking an open field, we got our first glimpse of a monster storm. My family made it safely indoors. We didn't have three days warning. While my weather app had told me storms were possible, there wasn't a single phone at the pool that issued an alert about upcoming weather. We all just used our eyes and basic common sense and got the hell out of there. Isn't that all you can really do for a thunderstorm? Do we need days upon days of hand-wringing over the fact that winter is coming? Does it really require capital letters and a house crest?  

So, the next time a storm approaches and passes with nary a drop of rain, or another snowstorm hits with no accumulation, or you are stuck in extra layers of clothing, join me in raising throwing the rope over a tree limb. I'm not saying they have to be right all of the time, but more right than wrong would be a great start.