April 19, 2014

Weather

Fair

66°
Conditions at Parkersburg, Mid Ohio Valley Regional Airport, WV
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Not an Exact Science

Not everybody gets it... as becomes clear when in public.

 Stop me if you've heard this one before...

Last week, I had the pleasure of walking down "Corn-Dog Row" at the Parkersburg Homecoming.  This is the name we affectionately give the street lined with fast food vendors of all descriptions.

As I strolled in the warm evening air, I heard several people call to me, "Hey, it's Kirk Greenfield!"..."Hey, Kirk, shouldn't you be on the air?".... and the ever popular, "What's the weather going to be like tonight?"

I usually respond with my stock, "What you see is what you get"...  which is actually based in scientific truth.... the best, most reliable forecast is "Steady State Forecasting".  That's a glorified term that means the odds of the weather being pretty much as you see outside your window are pretty good!  In fact, so good, that there's an actual term for forecasts produced this way!

But most people accept this and assume that I have some special insight into what's going to happen in the next few minutes, and so they are satisfied.

But there are always some who don't understand that weather forecasting is not an exact science.

They want to know what minute the rain will start to fall.  Or exactly when the storm will arrive.  Or,( worst case scenario) what the weather will be like next June 21st when their daughter is planning on getting married.  (As it's now mid-August, next June is anybody's guess.)

Except, it's not quite any body's guess.  Most of us realize that next June will be at the start of Summer, and summer are usually sunny, warm and sometimes wet and humid.  So, just be looking at the calendar and remembering our common sense, you could make a reasonably realistic forecast based solely upon the season.

But the problem is that some stations give the impression that they ALWAYS know exactly what is going to happen.  And I'm afraid that's just not possible.

Think of it this way:  You set a pot of water on the stove to hard boil some eggs.  Now, somebody asks you to predict the exact moment when the water will boil.  Could you do it? Could anyone do it?

Now, it's true that most people could predict that the eggs will be done after 12 minutes of a full rolling boil... we know that from experience.  But deciding when that moment will be reached depends on too many factors... how much water you have, how high the flame is, how cold the water was to start, how many eggs you have, how cool the eggs were, and how large the eggs are, just to name a few factors.

Does it make any difference?  Do we really HAVE to know exactly the moment when the water boils OR the eggs will be done?  Probably not, because we have to things that help us with this.  First, we monitor the stove. That is, very few people walk away from the kitchen when trying to boil water. Instead, common sense says we stay and watch.  And that's what weathermen do. They watch, observe and monitor (closely when severe weather is expected), but very few sit and watch the paint dry.

Second, we employ the clock, and time from when the boil begins and we add the eggs to a set period of time... usually 12 to 15 minutes, and then pull the eggs out, assuming that they are done.

Why?  because through trial and error, we have learned that's the optimum time frame.... and past experience has shaped our behavior.  Weathermen do the same thing. Past experience helps to shape our forecasts.

So, the next time you're tempted to ask exactly when that storm is going to get here, remember the boiling eggs... and don't forget to keep monitoring the situation!

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