Wednesday, June 11, 2014

'A slight chance'

I had the occasion to meet meteorologist Steve Glazier from the local FOX affiliate this week and give him some feedback on summer weather forecasting from a paddleboarder’s perspective.

I got my snide jab out of the way first, mimicking him and his colleagues in Lt. Frank Drebin tones: “Okay, we have a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms this afternoon, but there’s only a 10 percent chance of that.”

Then things got serious. Meteorologists have been relying on percentages so long that they’ve lost sight of how little value they offer. As a Lake Champlain person, you can’t do much with a “40 percent chance of …” forecast, especially if it’s more than 12 hours out.

Steve acknowledged this, as well as the general shortcomings of forecasting through audio/visual media — the flashing lightning bolt graphic that is displayed when there is a slight chance of thunderstorms offering a prime example of the disconnect between reality and covering your bases.

Being surprised on the lake by a pop-up lightning storm is no joke, and meteorologists have an important role to play in helping us avoid that. But some phrases should never be uttered, like: “there is a slight chance of a passing shower.” Really, don't bother. We’ll see it coming. We’ll experience it as it passes by, and we’ll enjoy the calm lifting clouds on the other side.

So I offered a suggestion. Keep the computer-generated percentages to yourself, and if it’s less than a 40 percent chance of precip, just say: “Showers and thunderstorms are unlikely.”

It’s positive. It’s accurate. I really think I got through to Steve on this.

But he had a counter.

“How about, ‘Showers unlikely — but possible,’” he said.

Redundant? Yes, but I’ll take it. There's even a slight chance he'll use it on the air.