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Nature Thoughts

My obsession with the 10-day forecast and the advantages of not knowing the weather

By March 22, 20132 Comments

I gave up paying any attention to the news several years ago, and that decision has vastly improved my quality of life. When at a social gathering someone says to me, “Did you hear what they’re saying about Obama?” I smile and answer, “No, I didn’t.” Then we talk about the weather. Or at least, we used to talk about the weather…

I do some of my best thinking on the relatively short drive to campus in the morning. This morning, the question that occurred to me was, “What if I ignored the weather, too?”

It’s been a less than ideal spring so far. It seems that this year, March is under the illusion that it is February and there’s nothing we can do to correct this calendar identity crisis. Every day for the last week, I get up every morning and check the 10-day forecast on my nearest device. I am looking for some day out there, even if it’s over a week away, that looks like spring. It hasn’t happened yet.

weather in madisonI do this every spring, and today I thought about what people did before they had devices and The Weather Channel. Of course, there’s the fact that even today no one really knows what the weather is going to be in 10 days. You have to keep checking the 10-day forecast because it changes all the time, which makes you wonder why we check it in the first place. Especially in spring, this seems to mean that it hardly ever breaks into the 60s when they say it’s going to. Then there are those days when you dress for the predicted weather and find yourself out of luck when it starts to rain or snow or dip below freezing.

But what if you didn’t even have someone sharing their educated guess about what the weather was going to be? What did we do before meteorologists or weather people? What if you just had to wing it? NASA has a history of weather prediction which suggests that it wasn’t until the 1950s when we started getting widespread, accurate weather forecasts. Many of the instruments for measuring things like barometric pressure had been invented, as well as the mathematical formulas using that information to make predictions. What was lacking was the computational power to put those formulas and data to use.

Was it better to have no idea what the weather was going to be tomorrow or next week? Sure, you’d know that in March in southern Indiana it was supposed to get warmer. You could look at the farmer’s almanac to figure out when to plant things, and that would probably do well most years. But there would be no expectation that someone could tell you whether it was going to rain or not next Tuesday.

Would you feel more humble–subject to the unpredictable whims of Mother Nature? Would we feel less confidence in the idea that everything can eventually be predicted and explained? Would there be more mystery? More unknown? Would we talk about the weather more or less, or really just about the same?

Today we can all become amateur meteorologists. You can see what the temperature will be hour by hour. You can look at the satellite image. You can get weather data that is increasingly localized. Forget the forecast for Madison; what good is that? I can compare the weather in downtown Madison to the weather on the hilltop or just down the road in Kent.

The problem with having all this information at our fingertips is that it leads to the illusion of control, and when it comes to the weather, there is no control. No matter how many times I look at the 10-day forecast, I cannot make the warm weather come any faster than it is going to come. The only thing knowing about it changes is my plans for the weekend. And maybe my attitude.

It’s a good thing, I suppose, to be able to know when I should take an umbrella with me in the morning. It is very good to know when a hurricane or a potentially tornado-producing storm is headed your way. I’m not sure about the rest of it. Maybe obsessing about what the weather is going to be gets in the way of appreciating what the weather is right now. Surely there are better ways to spend my time.

What do you think? Any other obsessive weather-checkers out there? Or could you just care less? Would it be better not to know?


  • Allen says:

    Hi Robyn! Just as I don’t look at the news anymore, I don’t pay much attention to weather forecasts. I’ll check short-term predictions, as in what might be in store for any particular current day I’m in (because I like to go cruising around in my old car with the t-tops off and don’t want to get caught in the rain), but otherwise… it’s going to do what it’s going to do, and it won’t matter whether I’m aware of it or not.

    • Robyn Ryle says:

      Very true, Allen. Though I do find now that it’s planting weather, that it’s good to know when it might rain for gardening reasons. Thanks for commenting and hope you get to enjoy some top-down weather this weekend.

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