During a game on the UK comedy/news show Mock the Week, Irish comedian Ed Byrne once responded to the prompt, ‘Things a Weather Forecaster would Never Say’ with: “Yeah, pretty easy reporting on things that already happened. Now – predicting the future.”
This is almost exactly what it’s like. I know – I work at a radio station and part of my job is weather reporting. So, since the Daily Post I drew on for today’s Blogging Fundamentals assignment was Clouds, I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about weather reporting and why its usually wrong.
The main reason is actually remarkably simple: when the weather changes, it can change really, really fast. I have recorded a weather report at 5:20 in the morning and it’s been different by 5:27. I don’t have time to keep up with those kind of changes.
The second reason is also pretty uncomplicated: usually weather is prerecorded. The weather people hear at 8:00 am on our stations is recorded sometime between 5:30 and 5:55 – in some cases, it’s even recorded the day before. Most of the time this isn’t a problem because the weather doesn’t shift around too much, but if you’re ever wondering why the people on the radio insist that the high is going to be 85 today and while the internet says its going to be 90 – that’s why.
Thirdly, there is only so much space. Most weather spots around my workplace average around 15 to 20 second, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is. Sort of. It’s enough time to say, “Mostly cloudy with a chance of showers and thunderstorms and a high near 91,” but not enough time to say, “Mostly cloudy today with a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms with a high near 91 and a west wind at 5 to 10 miles per hour.” Well, you can, but not when you have to stack it up with two or three other lines of about the same length. There’s a great line in the Billy Joel song “The Entertainer” which goes, “it’s a beautiful song but it ran to long/ if you’re gonna have a hit, you gonna make it fit/ so they cut it down to three oh five.” And its even more so with weather and news and the stuff that gets changed every day. They says time is money and there is no place where that is more true than airtime on the radio. Between ads, music and talk, weather really doesn’t rate that high – especially since the invention of the smartphone.
And finally, quite a bit of weather in general seems to be just…..guessing? The U.S. National Weather Center is in Atlanta, Georgia, the ‘local’ weather center for my area is in our state capital, 77 miles away. They could tell me there will be a 60% chance of rain today when it is pouring outside, which means the chance is really 100%. Yes, we all know they meant over the course of the day it’s 60%, but that’s not much comfort when you forget your umbrella. Someone is making assumptions somewhere because they’re really far away.
I’m not saying don’t listen to weather on the radio or tv or the internet or wherever, because a whole lot of the time, if we’re not right, we’re close enough. Five degrees of temperature isn’t going to change your mind about what you’re wearing all that much. I’m just asking that you cut us a little slack. Predicting the future isn’t all that easy.