Sunday, August 15, 2010

Talkin' About The Weather

[Today's category is, again: "Things I think about while driving around in the car."  In case you couldn't tell.]

The saying that "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody can do anything about it" is still patently true.

However, the level and the ubiquity of weather talk has been magnificently cranked up by advances in technology, the invention of new devices of communication, and The Weather Channel.

What used to be a one-minute segment at the end of radio news, or five minutes of affable guy at 11:20 p.m. on the TV, has multiplied and expanded exponentially.

Like a ... um ... well, viruses come to mind.

Information our parents got from the newspaper and our grandparents divined by consulting their rheumatism and the scent of rain on the morning air, is now 24/7 with an exceeding long view into the foggy future.

Now we have access to "Hourly" weather, offered in 15-minute increments, on the 8s, or moment-to-moment, in bulletins and alerts.  We can track weather online and on mobile devices, in multiple locations, all day/all night.  And watch the radar move.  What's more we can get important data for today, tomorrow, the weekend, the Ten-Day -- even fifteen days out.


This gives the illusion that we actually know something about what's going on. 

I suppose all this is has a positive aspect.  For example if there were a tornado bearing down, a heads-up would provide a few precious seconds to ... er ... "Honey, where's the video camera?"

Frequently, though, this embarrassment of information is merely an invitation to bitter disappointment.

Because weather is big.  It's phenomenally unbridled. When we reduce weather to "highs" and "lows" and "fronts" and "rotations," when we depict it, as in the graphic above, as icon sunniness or cloudiness, slanty raindrops or jagged lightning bolts, we fail to do justice to the raw immediacy of our experience of weather. The irrefutable reality of 90 degrees (with a Real Feel of 104) when it's beating down on your head.  Or the Real Feel of a hurricane deciding where to make landfall on your little piece of coastline.  

Weather, to paraphrase, is what happens to you when the Weather Channel is making other plans.

That little graphic up there in the corner is not a promise or a guarantee. (I know. I never fail to be surprised either.  If I see those lines and lines of storm clouds, I think they actually mean something.)  It's not a picture of today's weather. (No. Really. It's not. It's pixels.  Look. You can see 'em.)  But the problem is, to me, when I see those pixelated clouds spread out along the timeline of today, it feels very, very real.

And I end up just as baffled as the next person, shaking my head and whining, "But I thought it was supposed to [insert expectation] rain, storm, be sunny, be nice, be cooler, be warmer, be better today." 

Because, although we're often sadly disappointed by the fallibility of that massive, relentless engine of prognostication, we don't seem to ever get entirely disillusioned.  Every day is a new day for us.  A new chance to hope.  A new opportunity to find out, in advance, what "It's going to do today." Or fifteen days down the pike.

Oh, we of way too much faith.

"It" is going to do pretty much what the planet tells it to without regard for anybody's picnic plans.  And today's forecast is "A 60% Chance of Wrong."

I'm writing about this because it's easy to be obsessed with weather when it unfolds for you on big screen of Lake E.  The sky turns sullen over the horizon.  The wind rises. The need to know what "It" is going to do becomes urgent.  And there's this idea rampant in our culture that somebody out there actually knows.

Excuse me, I just need to take a peek at the radar....

Not kidding.  It's very sad.


  1. I always thought it was "Lake Effect" that made North Coast weather reports so unreliable. Then I moved to a place where it's "ocean effect", "river effect", "flat terrain effect." And instead of saying all winter, "I'll know if there's a snowstorm when I look out the window," I say, "I'll know it's going to rain/be 97o/blow up a hurricane when I walk outside." Still, weather reports are like checking your always hope there's a sure thing...but it turns out to be a Nigerian prince who needs you to advance him some cash.

  2. So true. So painfully true. Thanks for stopping by! I look out the window and see a stellar day in Cleveland.

    Wait. You mean my Prince Udo Okon isn't for real? But he's so nice. And rich, too....