WEATHER OR NOT
OPEN LETTER TO EVERYONE IN THE WEATHER REPORTING BUSINESS:
I appreciate your hard work and dedication in protecting us from mother nature’s potential dangers, and your cool hair, and I know you have also withstood endless complaints about your predicting inaccuracies, so I only have one question. How did you not see a 2-mile wide monster of a storm packing 125 MPH winds and TWO tornadoes headed directly at the nation’s biggest city on September 16th 2010?
I’ve heard and read a number of excuses. Excuse Number 1- LACK OF WEATHER PREDICTION TECHNOLOGY
Galileo invented the first weather forecasting instrument, the thermometer, in 1593. Since then we have added barometers, hygrometers, radar, sonar, Doppler, NEXRAD 1, 2, 3, and 4, NWS, NOAA, Skew-T, NASA Drones, Radiosonde Weather Balloons, Infrared scanners, wind profilers, base reflectivity meters, Geostationary Satellites, Polar Orbiting Satellites, “Extreme Weather Centers”, camera phones, the Internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. to the weather predicting arsenal. I’d like to add one that I can personally attest works better than all of these.
A little after 5pm on Sept. 16th I was home where we have a nice view of the Hudson River and Jersey City beyond it. I looked out the window and saw a strangely defined black line of clouds forming over New Jersey, with distant sunlight glowing oddly beneath it. At 5:23 I texted my wife that she was missing quite a lightning show across the river. This was clearly some kind of unusual weather event unfolding before anyone in the tri-state area with functioning eyes. I turned on CNN- something about the economy. Fox News- something about the Tea Party. Hmm maybe I was experiencing some lingering effects of those bad shrooms we bought from that Carlisle, PA townie in ‘89. I went local, certainly someone at New York 1 had seen New Jersey being swallowed by the bowels of Satan, no? Umm nope- something about MTA rate hikes.
Moments later I watched Jersey City disappear behind darkness and I couldn’t tell what else. I saw people in the park below begin to run. Rain, then a strange “plinking” sound I hadn’t heard in many years- was that hail? I went back to the news. Hot Spanish football reporter on Fox, Sara Palin on CNN and NY1 was in commercial. When it returned, there was a bright red crawl issuing a tornado warning for Staten Island. I’m thinking this thing that just arrived in lower Manhattan must have hit Staten Island some time ago (and in hindsight was not a tornado). On behalf of all the bridge and tunnelers from the fair Isle of Staten I’d like to say “Thanks for the heads up, yo.”
As this storm, the likes of which I had not seen since Hugo hit Long Island in the mid 80’s, ripped across the city, I continued to flip around the news channels as their staffs were apparently awakened by it. They began running tape of the storm that had passed several minutes before. Tape submitted by viewers. When the f%&#did the “News” become “Watch as we play video of bad shit that happened to you that we didn’t tape or see coming.”
I proceeded to watch the local NBC news as they extended their local coverage into the national news hour. Umm Chuck and Sue, love ya to death, but I don’t need to see endless extended coverage of severe weather AFTER it has already ravaged the area. It's kinda fun to watch Park Slopers dig out of their brownstones, but what would be really awesome in this instance is a FORECAST. Something like “THERE IS A TORNADO ABOUT TO HIT NEW YORK CITY.”
It was further bewildering watching the army of reporters all excited to bring you their “expert” reports on the aftermath. (“As you can see here, this tree has fallen and crushed this car- amazing. Chuck- back to you.”) The only thing they should be doing is apologizing for missing the cause of the devastation entirely. No let’s not go to Janice Huff for her expertise cuz she couldn’t figure out how to look out the goddamned window and see the clouds of hell about to engulf New York City.
Excuse Number 2- THESE KIND OF FREAK STORMS ARE DIFFICULT TO PREDICT
From MIT’s website:
“The Federal Aviation Administration has installed Terminal Doppler Weather Radars at 45 airports. These radars are designed to watch approach and takeoff paths at the airports to detect MICROBURSTS (tornados)”
If you don’t know the airport codes- EWR is Newark, New Jersey, where the storm passed first, LGA is Laguardia in Queens, and JFK is Kennedy, also in Queens near the Brooklyn border. So while I'll grant that these anomolies are tricky to foresee, we apparently have equipment designed to do just that, installed pretty much in the exact path of this storm. In three separate places. I bet you don’t have that kind of coverage in the great plains, yet sirens announce approaching tornados constantly there. In the Big Apple, nothing. If E has a screen crawl system that announces what Kim Kardashian's sister said about her butt that morning, the news orgs. should have one that announces incoming deadly storms.
Excuse Number 3: TORNADOS ARE VERY RARE IN THIS AREA SO NO ONE WAS ‘PREPARED’ TO DETECT IT AND WARN ANYONE.
Beyond the fact that our systems being capable only of predicting easily predictable atmospheric phenomena is a bit disconcerting, here’s what the National Weather Service says about NYC tornados:
“It is common for New York City to get a couple of tornado warnings a year, according Matt Scalora, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.”
So dear weather people, I don’t need to see your new pretty graphics packages of hurricanes that form in the Atlantic as they always have and don’t ever touch land. I don’t need to see your rookie reporters on a windy beach in Bermuda because you invested in a new webcam. Weather reporting is most importantly an educated prediction, not an after-the-fact fluff piece. It’s a forecast. Not an aftercast. When it comes to severe weather- AFTER is too late. It’s entertaining to see trees and garbage littering the streets of Richmond Hill, but not so much for the guy under said tree at the time because no one told him to get the hell indoors. You can’t continually show us scary pictures of the devastating effects of violent storms and then NOT report when they are about to crash directly into us. You can’t continually show us huge, scary looking CGI hurricanes forming in the Atlantic day after day and expect us to know when to actually go stock up on milk and Progresso products. I understand that fear equals ratings (SARS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, and now introducing... The Superbug!!) but weather prediction is about public safety, not capturing demographics with expendable income. Storms are not stories, they are not opportunities, they are nasty, ugly and dangerous. Can we please try to figure out how to protect the public from them?
MIT atmospheric scientist Edward Lorenz says this about forecasting the weather:
"To the often-heard question, 'Why can't we make better weather forecasts?' I have been tempted to reply, 'Well, why should we be able to make any forecasts at all?'
Ed, I agree. Outwitting nature is difficult. We should all remember, all the slick TV graphics and promos and sound effects don’t make it any easier. So when you watch the local news for your weather, remember this, and as an additional precaution, take a moment and peek out the window. It could save you a ton of trouble. And hell, it could get you a gig as a weatherman.