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I wish I had that kind of job security

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 11:26 a.m. CDT

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Back in my snarkier days, on occasion, I would hand the kid behind the counter a $20 bill for my food at the local burger joint.

Then, just after he rang it up into the computer, I would hand him the change part of the total and ask him to take it.

Usually, the ensuing chaos would be the sort of thing that would go viral on YouTube today, if I had recorded it.

I fear the same thing would happen to many of today’s newest generation of weather forecasters if they were forced to work without their computer models and other bells and whistles that have become standard operating equipment today. It’s because while they sort of understand in general terms how weather is made, they don’t fully understand the science behind it.

And that’s dangerous, my friends.

I know a number of people who are engaged in the profession of meteorology, and I’m pretty sure every one of them has heard the following uttered by me at least once this winter:

If I was as wrong as our local meteorologists, and as often, I would be out of a job.

I really envy “weather guys.” They can be wrong more often than they’re right and with a straight face, they’ll tell you they’re the “most accurate” forecasters out there. But the even bigger problem is that so many of us out here believe what they’re selling.

It’s easy to get bent out of shape when they completely blow it and “miss” the really bad weather headed our way — as they did just a few weeks ago. But how many of you think about it when they say it’s going to be “partly cloudy and 42,” only to have it end up being “sunny and 54,” like last Thursday?

That’s a deviation of more than 25 percent from the forecast, which is a really technical way of saying the weather guys were dead wrong — again.

One of the meteorologists I know writes a blog about his profession geared toward college meteorology students. Last year, after attending the American Meteorological Society’s annual convention, he wrote that private forecasting companies were no longer looking for “operational meteorologists,” the industry jargon for weather forecasters.

Instead, the hiring focus was on “developer meteorologists,” or the industry jargon for computer geeks who program the forecasting model computers. In other words, they’re looking for computer programers who happen to know a little bit about meteorology.


Perhaps it’s because these companies know that what is more important today is deciphering the terabytes of weather data produced daily by NWS stations around the globe to produce highly detailed forecast models.

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, every television station bragged about their Doppler radar, how powerful it was, and how it was better than the other stations’ equipment. They hired a new generation of meteorologists who could wield this powerful new technology, gently ushering long-time weather guys who better understood the science out the door.

And now, as the technology continues to develop, the newest generation of techno-meteorologists have emerged. They lack the scientific aptitude to understand what they’re forecasting, but better understand the computer programming languages necessary to develop handy-dandy models and snazzy television weather graphics.

They’re experts in computer languages like C+ and C++, but their understanding of Bernoulli’s Principle or the Coriolis Effect are generally basic. On general principle, they understand how weather happens, but I seriously doubt they could legitimately forecast the weather without a computer model handy.

It would be like watching the kid at the burger joint count back your change.

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If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

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Editor Bob Eschliman may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at beschliman@newtondailynews.com via email. He conducts “office hours” 7 to 8 a.m. each Thursday at the Newton Hy-Vee.

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