Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Weather Reports Give TOO Much Information

How did people survive a hundred years ago without weathermen? I mean, can you imagine what it must’ve been like not to have a professional meteorologist tell you every five minutes that, yes indeed, it is still snowing outside?!

We’re so lucky nowadays. We can get up-to-the-minute weather reports on our phones, our computers, our radios, and of course, on our televisions. In the middle of a snow storm, we can know for sure it’s still snowing outside because we can see on TV the weather reporter standing outside in the storm, telling us that it is still snowing. Why, if these brave journalists were not broadcasting live from the top of a snowbank outside the TV studio, how would we know it’s still snowing? We would be forced to do something archaic, such as look out the window.

Is it possible to have TOO MUCH weather information? During the recent series of snow storms that hit New England, I was scheduled to do quite a bit of traveling, some for business and some for vacation. I found myself monitoring the weather conditions in four different cities. Using a weather app on my cell phone, I checked the current conditions, I viewed the radar images (both static and “in motion”), and I pondered the ten-day forecast for each city. And I checked this information every 15 minutes or so. It got to the point where I was spending most of my waking hours gazing at my phone, and making comments to no one in particular, such as, “Whoa, now they’re calling for more snow next Thursday, but yesterday they said it would be clear. Man, that could cause my flight to be delayed,” and, “Hey, this morning they said it was going to be 20 degrees on Monday, but now they say it will only be 10 degrees. That’s gonna totally change which sweater I decide to wear that day.”

There are a couple of popular terms that apply here: “information overload” and “paralysis of analysis.” It’s quite amazing that we now have at our fingertips, for example, the current dew point in Chicago and the expected afternoon temperature five days from now in Ft. Myers, FL — not to mention nine billion other bits of weather data from around the globe. But do we really need THAT much weather information?

If someone is going to Florida on vacation next week, isn’t this the only weather forecast you really need: “It’s not hurricane season this month, and no matter what, it will be warmer there than where you are now, pal, so just get on the plane and relax”?

And if someone has to go to Chicago on business, isn’t this an appropriate weather report: “In case you forgot, it’s winter. Bring some long underwear and wool socks and stop whining”?

There is so much weather data available these days that it can be paralyzing. “Oh no, what should I wear? Will I be too cold? Will I be too hot?” “Uh oh, it’s supposed to snow. Maybe I should postpone my trip. Will I get a refund from the airline?” “Yeow, I just heard the roads are icy. Should I leave home early before the roads clog up with cars, or should I leave home late so the plow trucks can do their job?” In each of these scenarios, the final thought usually is: “Maybe I’ll just go back to bed and set my alarm clock for May 1st.”

Hmm, staying in bed for the next couple months? That sounds like a plan. Now I just need a professional meteorologist to inform me when May 1st arrives.

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