Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Want To Be Reincarnated as a Weatherman

As I sat here yesterday morning, two inches of snow were on the ground and the snow was showing no sign of letting up. The forecast was “Snow showers with no accumulation.” Once again, the forecast was wrong.

Just how accurate are weather forecasts? A New York Times article described in detail a study that was done in Missouri. It showed that television meteorologists were remarkably bad at predicting the weather and the further out the forecast went, the worse they did.

A website called “Forecast Advisor” tracks the accuracy of forecasts for any area of the country. The first screen shot shows three different forecasts for yesterday. The first was posted yesterday and the other two are revisions. None was correct as it is snowing heavily when the site was accessed. The second screen shot lists cumulative accuracy statistics for the New York City area.

























At first glance, the accuracy for last year looks pretty good. But here’s an interesting thought. According to the New York Times article if you predicted it would not rain every day, you were right 86% of the time.

The website Weather Report Card gave “D” grades to all five major weather services that it follows regarding both temperature and precipitation forecasts for Monday, January 24, 2011.

Now contrast this with my current profession, general surgery. How would you feel about me if I told you I made the correct diagnosis of appendicitis 76% of the time last month? Or say I told you that you needed hernia surgery but at surgery I only found a hernia 86% of the time? I think I would very soon be out of business.

Not so the weathermen. It seems that they are immune to criticism or accountability. In fact, the Times report stated, “When station managers were asked about this [accountability], one said, ‘There’s not an evaluation of accuracy in hiring meteorologists. Presentation takes precedence over accuracy.’”

This is why I’d like to be reincarnated as a weatherman. You can be wrong as often as you like. And if you are, no one cares. In addition, you get to engage in witty banter with the news anchors and the sports guy. My really special reincarnation wish would be to come back as the guy who stands on the beach during a hurricane and tells you it’s raining hard as his hat blows away and billboards fly past. By the way, what do those guys do when there are no hurricanes? I want that job too.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Weathermen are like Christopher Walkin, immune to criticism and accountability. He is the lone survivor of many a bad movie, most notably "Gigli." Sometimes, people just get a free pass.

Barbara said...

Another perspective I read today: http://stormeyes.org/wp/2011/01/forecasting-on-the-edge/

Anonymous said...

Some of the best scientists in the world are involved in improving accurate forecasting. Why would a weatherman NOT want to give you an accurate forecast? And if you really want to be reincarnated as a broadcast meteorologist, be prepared to start at 25 a year. Also, forecasting the future cannot be compared to diagnosing a condition that already exists.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Anon, interesting comments. Your last sentence is worth pondering. I don't really agree with you though. When I made a mistake the patient suffered, and I was accountable for my error. Just about every physician in the US is sued at least once in his career.

With extremely rare exceptions when a meteorologist makes a mistake, people may suffer, but the weatherman is not accountable, and he goes on to the next forecast.

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