Thursday, March 7, 2013
Lying for a Living
Those lying bastards. They got me again.
Which ones this time? The weather forecasters, who else? I barely bother with the news any more, but I try to tune in to the weather. I have no idea why. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and Super Doppler Radar, and they still can’t get it right.
Case in point: for two days the local stations wailed about the advent of Snowmageddon, a March storm that would dump anywhere from 3 to 10 inches (OR MORE!!!! With possible ICE!!!!!!!) on our viewing area. My own little section of Lancaster County, PA geared up to receive its predicted 4 to 8 by rushing out to the grocery stores to stock up on milk, bread and eggs. (I’m not quite sure why these are the items of choice. Maybe French toast is the traditional breakfast for snowstorms?) Anyway, I got my own emergency items: milk, junk food and toilet paper. I had a stack of books and some DVDs I got from the library. I was set. Bring it on!
Here’s what the weather brought: a whole ton of nuthin’. The snow sweeping in from the west ran headlong into a warm air mass blowing off the Atlantic. Instead of strengthening the storm as expected, the warm air overwhelmed it. Heavy snow did hit west of the Susquehanna, in places like Gettysburg and Franklin County, and south of the Mason-Dixon line in the Virginias and Washington. My neighborhood got rain. Heavy at times, nonexistent at others. And there stood the poor local weathermen, stuck on camera with egg on their faces (maybe that’s what the eggs are for), sheepishly apologizing for the capriciousness of Mother Nature. So much for Super Doppler Radar.
The guy at the library remarked that Punxatawny Phil’s predictions have as accurate a success rate as the average meteorologist’s. Maybe they should replace all those computers and expensive equipment with a sleepy groundhog. Or go all out and use the Magic 8-Ball. It couldn’t do any worse. I’d rather hear, “Forecast uncertain. Ask again later” than get whipped into a panic over a storm that gets a three-day buildup and then fizzles on arrival, an outcome none of the “experts” saw coming. We could give the groundhog the Magic 8-Ball. I’d tune in for that.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to wish they’d majored in meteorology in school. What other profession lets you be wrong half the time and still rewards you with a paycheck?
I’ve even got qualifications. I write fiction. I make stuff up and people pay me for it. Look at Stephen King. Readers pay him ridiculous amounts of money to scare the crap out of them. You don’t even need to buy bread, milk and eggs before cracking open a Stevie opus. I used to write SF and fantasy, and still include aspects of those genres in my romance books. If “speculative fiction” isn’t an apt description of your average weather forecast, I don’t know what is.
Above all, both fiction and weather reports have to sound plausible. I’m pretty sure vampires and werewolves and all don’t exist. It’s my job to convince people that they could, and if they did, this is how they’d act. Same for your basic weather report. “Here’s what’s happening for the week. This storm is building here. It’s going to move here by Friday, and this is what it’ll do when it gets there.” All you have to do is believe, or suspend your disbelief. No problem. I could be a weather forecaster.
Except the guy at the library told me you need calculus to major in meteorology. He knew people who studied it and told him. You have to actually read those weather maps and calculate wind speeds and barometric pressure and make projections on what all those highs and lows are going to do. Then what are those computers for? If your knee swells up before a thunderstorm, are you allowed to factor that in?
Forget it. I’ll stick to writing fiction for a living. It’s lies, but they’re honest lies. I’m sure weather forecasters mean well. They can’t help it if Mother Nature likes to screw with them. And as for the weather itself, next time I want to know what it’s doing outside, I’ll look out a window.