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Generally Recognized As True: Inaccurate weather forecasting, and a few comments on car culture/pathology in Georgetown, Ontario

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Inaccurate weather forecasting, and a few comments on car culture/pathology in Georgetown, Ontario

Although I shouldn't have been surprised, I went out for a long errand-running walk -- about 2 hours -- this morning with just shorts and t-shirt, foolishly trusting of The Weather Network's forecast of "isolated showers" this morning. It was "showering" when I left, but if that had been the worst of it then it would have been fine.

But by the time I was about halfway home, those showers had turned into a steady light rain. Three-quarters home and it was steadily raining. Within 5 minutes of home, it was a torrential downpour with significant thunder and lightning. I arrived home with leaking shoes, a see-through wet t-shirt, and a new hairdo.

It is still steadily raining as I type -- 3 hours since I set foot into those showers. Apparently, a severe thunderstorm warning cropped up while I was out, and the TWN forecast still shows a 40% chance of precipitation this afternoon -- the afternoon being about 15 minutes away.

One thing I should add about Georgetown that it is a car-insane place to live. At almost every opportunity for an altercation with a car (i.e. road entrances/exits), I had one. At some point, it starts to feel like a challenge. The main roads were steadily busy before 9am to the extent that it was difficult to cross without going way out of my way to use a "crosswalk" far off in the distance.

This car addiction really does come across as a mental illness when you spend a lot of time getting around town on foot. There is no excuse for it and I am certain that most of these trips are frivolous and redundant. If there is any politican that wants to hike gas taxes and devise a way to put a flat per-kilometre charge on driving -- period! -- I will to support him or her.

My main point, though, was going to be about weather forecasts. There have always been jokes about weather forecasts. People who aren't scientifically-capable have always joked about their inaccuracy. But these past couple of years have been different, I think. They are almost habitually inaccurate, unless a weather system is so large that it would be impossible not to get it right. I can't count on two hands the number of times I've been told this year of "isolated showers" or "variable cloudiness", only to find myself in the middle of a steady downpour.

Is this related to climate change, I wonder? Do the old models no longer work? We seem to be having problems like that with our economy at the moment -- past experience is no indicator of future experience. We were meant to be well into recovery mode by now.

The Weather Network's long-range forecast has always been a joke and I don't know why they bother publishing it (maybe it's that Web 2.0 tendency to force your customers to test your software for you), but even their short-range forecasts are unreliable lately and I am starting to distrust them. Environment Canada is not much better. On any given day, one or the other might be right, but one isn't consistently the one that gets it right so you can't pick a winner.

But I am only starting to distrust them. My experience today is evidence that I'm not all the way there yet.

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