It’s been a while since the local weather forecast came true in my yard. I really don’t know why we need it anymore, unless a tornado is possible. Dangerous weather requires preparation.
The rest of the forecasting is another thing. Rain and thunderstorms can ruin outdoor events, and we do want to be able to prepare for them — if only the forecast could help. But, alas, we’re mostly on our own.
The 10-day forecast is occasionally fairly accurate, and mostly not. The closer we get to today’s weather, the more accurate and less “fore” the forecast is. That would be OK if we didn’t need to plan ahead.
A meteorologist must have a background in science to present an intelligent rationale for a prediction that I can’t make by standing on the tippy-top of my roof and looking to the horizon. The science is lacking, due to the information Mother Nature hides.
My wife asks, “Why do we look at the forecast?” It’s because it gives us something to think about. Will it really rain for four days straight? Nobody knows. But that’s the prediction from several days away.
Two days later the question is, “Will we really have four dry days of sun instead?” Nobody knows. But that’s the prediction. You want to plan by it? That’s your problem, because I can promise that if you wait just a little longer, the four days of rain might be on the schedule again. All you have to do is make two sets of plans — one for dry days and one for wet.
The meteorologists are working hard. I’m not criticizing. I’m thinking about the science, which is about knowledge and establishing probability. The real question is this: “Is there really a possibility of rain tomorrow?” The real answer is no. Rain will either come or it won’t. Either the conditions for rain exist and will create rain, or the conditions do not exist.
The forecast for 80 percent chance of precipitation is interpreted to mean that existing conditions produce rain 80 percent of the time. But that cannot be. If the rain-causing conditions exist, they will cause rain. And if they don’t exist, there is no chance of rain.
Either case is one of certainty. Where certainty exists, there is no probability. Mathematically, 100 percent chance of rain is unmathematical. It’s like saying a chance of rain exists for sure. That too would be false, because no chance exists where the conditions do not. If we only knew more about the conditions, we would realize that there is either a certainty of rain or a certainty of none. There’d be no guessing, just impeccable prediction.
We don’t usually have that much information, but we still want meteorologists to give us their best guess. We respect them. We believe in them. We just don’t believe what they say. How in Sam Hill do they command our unwavering respect? We are so gullible and loving, and down in our hearts, we know the predictions we want are elusive.
We don’t want the truth. We don’t want to hear: “Folks, let’s be honest. We don’t have enough information to guarantee that the weekend will be sunny and mild. All we can say for sure is that, if the conditions do exist, it will definitely rain, and if they do not, it will be dry.”
Nobody wants to hear a stupid forecast like that.
Max T. Russell writes for the international business intelligence and nonprofit communities.