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ECOVIEWS: The weather is more fun to talk about than global warming

September 30, 2018

One subject always appropriate for an environmental column requires no special occasion – the weather. I recently heard a British weather-lover say, “London weather is not bad. You are just not dressed properly.” Perhaps he was channeling John Ruskin, 19th-century British art critic who wrote, “There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” And I applaud Rachel Carson’s assertion that “a rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods.”

Do not worry. I am not about to launch into the polarizing issue of whether global warming is real, imagined, or a carefully crafted conspiracy by persons known or unknown that someone else does not agree with.

My only allusion to climate in this column is a quote from Mark Twain: “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.” Weather itself is a worthy environmental topic. Many people (like me) enjoy talking about weather whereas others (not like me) don’t. A few comments on our puzzling fascination with weather forecasting are in order. In other words, some unharnessed thoughts about weather should be acceptable for anyone who ever considers the topic, which means everybody.

Some people think talking about the weather is inane and boring. I do not agree. But in the spirit of fairness, here are some comments from people whose opinions differ from mine. Oscar Wilde asserted that “conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

And Kin Hubbard, an Indiana humorist said, “Don’t knock the weather. If it didn’t change once in a while, nine out of 10 people couldn’t start a conversation.” Perhaps the most hurtful statement to those of us who find weather fascinating came from the insensitive words of Thomas Fuller, a British physician who died in the 18th century. “Change of weather is the discourse of fools.” Hey, back off, some of us like weather talk, even if it’s just a healthy way to complain.

I don’t seem to be able to talk about the weather without mentioning the foolishness of something I do each day, along with several billion other people, which is check the weather forecast. Not just for the day, but for the week, yet! Why do we continue to pay any attention to a weather forecast?

My cousin Steve, who is a meteorologist, asserts that “nowcasting” is the only reliable weather report. He notes that meteorological studies have documented that predicting that the weather tomorrow will be exactly like it was today is more likely to be right than any other predictions that are made. So why do we all keep checking the weather report? Someone named Patrick Young has part of the answer: “The trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.”

Want some proof of how unreliable long-range weather forecasts are? Tape those 10-day projections on your refrigerator each day for a week then line up what happened today with what was predicted 10 days ago. You will find the earlier forecast about whether it would rain was right about as many times as it was wrong. Flip a coin and your chances will be as good at predicting whether it will rain or not rain 10 days from now.

A difference between wild animals and humans is that any animals that based their survival on the misguided belief that they were able to predict the weather eventually left no descendants. That kind of thinking no longer exists in the animal kingdom, except for humans. Nonetheless, despite a lifetime of knowing that a long-range weather forecast is absolutely meaningless, I still routinely check to see what the weather report says is in store for us over the next few days. How else will I know the perfect time for a walk in the woods?

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