top border

Please note, not all links may be active. This site is a snapshot of an earlier time.

A moment of weakness

Andrew Freedman @ 3:15 AM

An event took place on Thursday that hasn't occurred since I was a toddler sporting a blond bowl haircut.

I was caught completely unprepared for the weather. And I was not pleased.

Jason Samenow's Forecast

*Flood watch in effect tonight. 1-2" of rain possible*

Forecast Confidence: Medium-HighToday: Becoming mostly cloudy. High 57.
Tonight: Rain developing. Heavy at times. Breezy. Lows 45-50.
Tomorrow: Rain ending before noon. Becoming windy and colder. Temperatures falling through the 40s in the afternoon.

News and commentary on yesterday's record heat:
Check back tomorrow for Jason's week-ahead forecast.

I'm sorry weather friends if I let you down by being caught in a rainstorm without a
raincoat or an umbrella. I could blame El Nino or the North Atlantic Oscillation, but I take full responsibility for the lapse in atmospheric awareness.

The mild and boring weather pattern had lulled me into a false sense of security, and I was blindsided by a shortwave trough.

Thursday began as almost every other day this winter has started in Chicago: Cloudy, cool and breezy. The sky had a thick, layered look, an appearance that has typically amounted to nothing this season. The atmosphere has been all talk and no action. What a loser!

To base my clothing decisions I relied on my assessment of the sky conditions and a check of the outdoor thermometer, as well as a a brief forecast I heard during breakfast read by the news anchor on National Public Radio.

The forecast I heard called for cloudy and mild conditions (mild for winter in the Midwest anyway), with the chance of a "stray shower."

"Stray shower" is another way of saying: "A shower that likely won't affect you." It is not a threatening term, and should not be used unless the chance of precipitation is very, very low but not low enough to ignore it altogether. Not having looked at the maps, I figured there was a weak and pointless cold front passing through that might spark a light, brief shower.

No need to take a raincoat.

What I didn't realize was that the stray shower forecast was based on the calculation that a shield of moderate to heavy rain would stop its northern progress just south of the city.

If I had known that, I would've hedged my bets and gone for the jacket. Instead, I went with my "almost winter" jacket - a hard shell fleece.

When I saw it begin to rain in the afternoon I figured that I was unlucky, for the stray shower had selected me for a visit. But it kept raining. Soon it was pouring, and the radar showed not a passing front but a deluge. I had no protection on the 10 minute walk to the train, and was also soaked for the 15 minute walk from the train to my apartment near Wrigley Field.

The feeling of being caught off guard by the weather is one of loneliness that quickly transforms into a thirst for vengeance. "Why me?" I asked to no one in particular, my waterlogged corduroys clinging to my ankles.

"This is not a stray shower! This is not a stray shower! Who was the idiot who made this forecast?"

The NWS blamed it on model error associated with a stronger low level jet stream than was expected, and other technical reasons that no member of the public would understand. I doubt the TV guys accepted blame, and certainly the news anchor on
NPR the next day said nothing about her Colin Powell goes to the United Nations moment.

What I wanted was an apology, a collective recognition that someone screwed up and I suffered for it. But none came, as is usually the case with busted forecasts. Weather prediction will never be an exact science.

Disclosure of forecast confidence is one of the great things about, and it would be interesting to see it applied more broadly by the mainstream media. I would've liked to have heard the NPR anchor say: "Today, cloudy and cool with a chance of a stray shower. Or a flood. Or perhaps vermin. We're not really sure. Forecast confidence, low."

In that case I would've brought an umbrella, a snow shovel, a helmet and a canoe. At least then I would've been prepared.

Comments are closed for this archived entry | Link | email post Email this post