The Weather

The wind was blowing the rain in sheets that were more like waves of water hitting my truck. I pulled over onto the shoulder of Interstate 70 and joined the increasing number of vehicles stopped along the side of the road. The wind was gusting so hard that I feared the horse trailer I was pulling would be flipped over, not to mention the fact that I could barely see the road ahead of me. As I sat there being buffeted by wind and rain, I switched over my radio from the audio tape of Ernest Hemingway’s 'For Whom the Bells Toll' to the local radio station in western Kansas.

“Possible thunderstorms…” was the weather forecast. “Well Duuuh” I said to no one in particular. Kansas is not my favorite state, and their weather wasn’t doing much to change that. At least it wasn’t hot. The temperature in August is usually 100 or more with high humidity. Now there was just the high humidity. I had just come from northwest Colorado where the daily weather forecast for the previous two months had been scattered thunderstorms.

I have come to some conclusions about weather forecasts. They are, like any forecasts, always wrong. The only thing that forecasters do is to try and minimize the degree to which they are wrong. A 50% chance of rain means that it might rain or it might not. Flip a coin. Of course, on any particular day, it might rain or it might not, so there is always a chance of rain, however remote it might be. Thus the absolute safest forecast is to just say that there is a chance of rain. Putting a percentage on it simply adds the illusion of accuracy -- like picking a score on a football pool.

I’m still not sure about the difference between scattered clouds and partly cloudy, but either forecast is safe since it is a rare day that there are no clouds at all. Historic records for the area of the forecast can be helpful. If, over a 10-year period, you have had an average of five days of rain each June, then in June you are pretty safe in saying that that there is a 20% chance of rain.

As the storm intensity declined, I again joined the other drivers heading East on Interstate 70 and continued listening to the local weather station. The forecast was soon altered from “possible thunderstorms” to, “A line of severe thunderstorms with wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour and hail possible of up to one inch in diameter.” I thought, “This wasn’t a weather forecast. This was a weather observation.” Someone with a cell phone, sitting in his or her car along the side of the road probably called the radio station and said; “Hey you idiots, it’s storming like hell out here.” The radio station forecasters added the “…hail possible of up to one inch in diameter” just to cover their asses.