Feeling the weather about the forecast

Have you ever wondered why — with artificial intelligence, weather satellites, supercomputers like Watson, space-age technology, and enough scientists and meteorologists to fill Puerto Rico — they can’t get the forecasts right?

If we cannot get correct daily forecasts, how will we be able to control climate change, and know the long-term forecast for this unfortunate planet called Earth?

This is, of course, an ancient problem dating back to ancient times when primitive men and women looked to the sky and tried to guess what natural disaster the gods would throw at them next. Thousands of years later, our brains have gotten bigger and our technology more amazing, but we still ask the eternal question: “Is it going to rain today?”

This was not a typical summer. It was hotter than usual and colder than usual. We’ve gone from the days of high temperatures, when we gritted our teeth because global warming was on the doorstep, to the days of spring temperatures in August, when we thought the global cooling that killed the dinosaurs had returned.

I’m obsessed with the weather. The only thing that annoys me more than fake political polls is bad weather forecasts. I have three weather apps, four weather radios, two home weather stations, and a subscription to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration channel.

Even with all these resources, I rarely get close to accurate predictions. Temperatures are usually low, sometimes reaching five degrees. Expectations vary from application to application. Thunderstorms come when we are supposed to have sunny skies. All of this means that with trillions of dollars in technology, the weather still has the upper hand.

Of course, the media loves to stir up every storm on a slow news day. I was really worried about the atmospheric armageddon called Hurricane Hillary — Hillary with one “l” — because my daughter lives in Palm Springs, which was in the path of the storm. She considered flying there to return them to the safety of their New England home, but fortunately their state was spared, and Las Vegas lived to see another day, to the relief of millions of gamblers.

So, don’t accuse me of not understanding both sides of the story, let me say that most Americans trust their local weatherman more than their president. A recent YouGov poll found that “the vast majority of people… believe that weather forecasting is very or fairly accurate.” The source most likely to be rated as “very accurate” by those who use it are weather stations TV, followed by local TV news and weather apps.

However, I will make my own prediction. It’s back to basics. First, I bought the famous Native American weather stick from Farmer’s Almanac, which points up for good weather and down for bad weather. I plan to use it with my book on how to make predictions by studying cloud formations.

“A seven-day forecast can accurately predict the weather about 80 percent of the time and a five-day forecast can accurately predict the weather about 90 percent of the time. However, forecasts for 10 days – or longer – are only correct about half the time.

Well, the Farmer’s Almanac, which has been calculating long-range forecasts since 1818, is supposed to have an accuracy rate of 80 to 85 percent. They give you 16 months of forecasts for the continental United States and deny using “any kind of computers, satellite tracking equipment, weather lore, or groundhogs.”

The first editor, David Young, developed what they called “the formula,” a top-secret methodology based on “sunspot activity, the tidal motion of the Moon, the position of the planets and more.”

“This formula has been time-tested, challenged and accepted for centuries,” says the Almanac, which is “the oldest source of consecutively published weather forecasts, even longer than the National Weather Service.”

For this winter, there is an “extreme winter forecast,” and they say: “The prairies are back… People living along the I-95 corridor from Washington to Boston, who saw a lack of winter precipitation last winter, should test… Quite the opposite, with plenty of rain/sleet and snowstorms to contend with this winter… get ready to shake, shiver and shovel!”

Although weather forecasting is as challenging as stock trading, I knew someone who was always right—and it wasn’t Al Roker or Willard Scott. Chuck Gamzee was the first city editor I worked with. When the newspaper was about to go to print each morning, the last thing he did was write the weather forecast, which appeared at the top of the front page.

Chuck never waited for the latest forecasts to arrive via the Associated Press. He went to the newsroom window, opened it, looked at the sky, then returned and wrote down what he saw. About 90 percent of the time his predictions were correct. He didn’t even have a degree in meteorology.

Former Stamford attorney and Greenwich Mean Time editor Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com.

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