The most inaccurate profession of all time

February 17, 2011

by Kelly Belton, NEWS EDITOR

Thanks to the impeccable accuracy of the National Weather Service’s forecasts, we have missed three full days of classes and seen absolutely no snow this quarter.

I don’t fault Tech’s administration, as some have. I realize the officials of the Emergency Response Team are making the best decisions they can with the information they have. But why has their information been so terrible?

Last Wednesday, I got home from class around 2 p.m. and excitedly checked the forecast for snow about every 10 minutes. Between those checks, I would step outside, just in case some sort of snow phenomenon was occurring outside my front door.

The “snow” was originally supposed to start falling around 11 a.m., according to The Weather Channel. But around noon, Tech still saw no such thing.

The university announced it would close at 3 p.m. and I, like many in the area (including Lincoln Parish School officials), thought this was a prudent decision as snow were predicted going to fall into the morning hours and temperatures remain in the low 20s.

At 3 p.m., I became a bit flustered. It was not snowing. There weren’t even snow clouds in the sky anymore. I had been ripped off once again.

Of course, I immediately checked the forecast. Suddenly, the 100 percent chance of snow all afternoon had turned into a 10 percent chance between 3 and 4 p.m.

Just like that, the National Weather Service took that snow from us. While I appreciate the effort the meteorologists put into their forecasts, I can predict an absence of snow just as well as they can. They just disguise it with a measly 10 in front of the percent sign.

During our snow day, I set out to discover why there was such a discrepancy. I discovered an interesting article from Feb. 8 titled “Southern Snowstorm Forecast.”

It began, “Mother Nature is dropping winter storms like it’s hot.” As an interesting lead, it caught my eye. The story continued, “Now that I have that Snoop Dogg song in your head, let’s get into the meat of the story here.”

I felt I had found an answer. Meteorologists don’t need to take their jobs seriously because there’s an 80 percent chance they’ll be wrong anyway.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Houston started preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Rita. A similar weather frenzy had everyone excited for what could happen, just as the winter storms had everyone excited this year (though for a much different reason). School was cancelled and thousands attempted to evacuate, but when it was all said and done, the storm completely missed the west side of town.

Weathermen are wrong a lot. Nostradamus can’t predict the future and neither can meteorologists.

Still, in any other occupation, you would be scorned, if not sued, for being wrong at this rate.

Just imagine the chaos that would ensue if a reporter accidentally reported that the president had died or if a doctor, although acting on his best predictions, made a wrong move in the operating room. It’s unacceptable.

Another problem is simply the source of nearly all weather forecasts in the country. They almost all come from the National Weather Service. This is not to bash the NWS, but it is limiting when even local media outlets are just simplifying NWS reports.

The University of Michigan has created Weather Underground to help fix this issue. According to its website, Weather Underground uses different technology than the NWS does and compiles weather reports from around the country to form a more holistic forecast.

No weather site will give me the 100 percent accuracy I want, but the NWS has some proving to do. Until then, I’ll stick with a site that leaves out the Snoop lyrics.

Kelly Belton is a junior journalism and political science major from Houston who serves as news editor for The Tech Talk. E-mail comments to keb029@latech.edu.