The Forecaster’s Burning Ears

I have my name ‘forward searched.’ If a new entry comes on the Internet, or gets published in a newspaper, and if Google sees it (and they see everything) , they send me an email. I get asked for quotes about the weather all the time and I like to see what people write.

A few minutes ago, Google sent me a link. They’d found a new webpage with my name on it.

The link led to a site where there is an argument going on about me. How absolutely weird&#185. How many other problems must you solve before you get to me on life’s giant to-do list?

The combatants are on a site populated by weather lovers. By and large, these people like active weather and are disappointed when the forecast doesn’t follow. What they do is called ‘wishcasting’.

I think most forecasters overforecast snow. My forecasts tend to be conservative. On a seasonal basis, I would guess I forecast fewer inches of snow than any other meteorologist in Connecticut. No one gets them all. My forecasts are pretty accurate.

The link led directly to a post ridiculing my forecast. I learned a long time ago you don’t do that until AFTER the event.

Did anyone see Geoff Fox’s snowfall forecast. My jaw almost hit the ground when i saw 0-1″ for the shore and 2-3″ well inland with 4-7″ for the northern counties. That microcast is frying his brain or something. Anyone with a half a brain could forecast this storm better than that. Look at this consensus…

Another poster added:

he just went with precision microcast. Didnt even make his own forecast. I guess that leaves you the easy out…”the model was wrong” if you bust.

Followed by the closer:

Geoff fox may be right for THE WRONG REASONS based on the available data its STUPID to forecast what he did. Whoeever said it was based on that POS microcast was right. Thats exactly what he used he didnt forecast at all, use thermal profiles, etc. I refrained from emailing him but its sad. Even Brad Field told me “WOW…hes nuts, i would sell my house if we dont get accumulation on the shore”

This is one of the saddest things ive seen come out of that weather center

Brad is my friend. I’m sure I’ve said worse about him. No foul.

You know, it wasn’t too long ago this stuff would have bothered me. I’m on TV. I understand people will judge me.

Some people did come to my defense. They’ll be receiving something extra for Christmas.

Here’s the payoff:

Well, it look like Geoff Fox’s forecast will verify yet again. YOU are the crazy one. he was right about everything. The sleet mixed in early and i only got 2 inches here in monroe which northern sw ct. Geoff Fox is RIGHT most of the time. he forecasts reality. don’t get me wrong, I LOVE SNOW! but the pattern we are in is not bringing much of it here and Geoff has forecast basically every storm right so far this year. so don’t bash his forecasts till they bust, because in this case, you and everyone else busted.

Ah, sweet revenge.

Truth is, any forecast can be a bust – even one prepared with all due diligence. That’s why I sweat them all out. It’s the most nerve wracking part of my job.

Though one poster accused me of using a single computer model out of the box, I put a lot of thought into what I finally forecast and use a lot of tools in getting there. There are charts and maps and columns of numbers from multiple computer models.

I’m a math geek. I love this stuff.

I am ultimately responsible. It’s my decision… my voice… not some suite of models and simulations. I apologize when wrong. Thankfully, not often enough that the guy who said I’d blame the models would have ever seen me do it.

I’ll tell you a secret. This is real ‘inside baseball’ stuff and I won’t be offended if you’re bored.

My number one job is not accuracy. Please, don’t get me wrong, accuracy is important. If I’m not accurate, people will stop watching. It’s just not number one.

My main goal is to tell a useful and memorable story. I need to leave the audience with an understanding of what will happen. If I’ve done my job right, they will viscerally understand the weather to come.

A forecast is worthless if it can’t be conveyed to the audience in a useful fashion – no matter how accurate

And, in reality, there is no practical difference between 3″ or 5″ or 7″ of snow. They all have virtually the same effect. They are dealt with the very same way. With 3″ or 5″ or 7″ of snow, schools will close, plows will roll, traffic will snarl and nighttime activities will stop.

That’s why using graphics derived from a single model is OK, even when they differ slightly from my ideal forecast. I would rather use an effective tool to connect an idea to the viewer rather than throw it out, especially when its deviation from my thoughts is inconsequential.

&#185 – I’m not going to publish the link and would rather it not be included in comments.

The Return Trip

I’m typing from seat 3A aboard Southwest Flight 616. It’s a direct, as opposed to non-stop, flight from West Palm Beach to Hartford via Baltimore. All the passengers, save four, thought Baltimore was far enough.

This afternoon I couldn’t help but think of my first commercial flight. It was on a Lockheed Electra L188, a second section flight on the Eastern Shuttle&#185. I was on my way to a college interview in Boston. That was 40 years ago. A lot has changed in flying.

Back then I could have asked to see the cockpit without being arrested.

I remember looking out the window during that flight, much as I looked out the window on this one. I was fascinated by the countryside of Connecticut and Rhode Island as we flew from LaGuardia to Logan. Today I was fascinated by the clouds that floated above Florida and the adjacent Atlantic.

We headed pretty far east before heading north today. The pilot did a good job avoiding the towering thunderheads. I wonder if anyone else on board knew how bumpy it might have been?

I don’t remember the flight attendants from that first trip, though they probably would have been puzzled by the term “flight attendant.” They were stewardesses, mainly young, probably pretty. To me, a seventeen year old unaccustomed to any of their world, they were glamorous and sophisticated.

None of my flights for this trip have been full. From what I read, that’s unusual. No one sat in the middle seat between me and the strangers with whom I’ve shared the row. Nowadays, that’s a luxury.

Being an early boarder from Southwest’s Group “A”, I had my my choice of seats. On the way down it was on the aisle. Now I’m at the left window, chosen for its access to a view of sunset. I try to sit forward of the wing, where first class is on other airlines, the better to snap a few shots.

I watched a PHP tutorial video on the computer, ate an unbelievably expensive sandwich I bought in the terminal, took some photos, loosened, then removed, my sneakers and fidgeted. Helaine should be glad she wasn’t here. My fidgeting would have driven her nuts.

I just looked down to see a dense lattice of streets. I didn’t recognize it at first, but it was Brooklyn. In the distance, Manhattan was underwhelming. I made it out by its shape more than its lights.

I did catch the lights from Shea Stadium and the Tennis Center, but mostly everything under me is nondescript. Anything I recognize from here in will be because I’ve lived there.

I’ll be flying this route again Wednesday. This trip was a last minute deal because of my dad’s hospitalization. Next week it’s my mom’s birthday.

Actually, this turned out to be a pleasure trip, didn’t it?

&#185 – Back then, if the plane was filled, another would be rolled out for the remaining passengers. Though the scheduled flight was on a jet, an old prop plane served as the backup.

The Skinny On My $30 Drugstore Camcorder

I’ve received a few emails from folks wondering where I got a camcorder for $30? A little explanation is necessary, because it’s not quite that simple.

CVS and Rite Aid (among others), sell minimalistic camcorders made by Pure Digital. This camcorder has just a few controls – record, play, delete. There’s no fast forward or rewind and no ability to review or delete what you’ve recorded, except the last shot you took.

The camcorders are advertised as one-time-use. The idea is, you shoot your video and then return the camcorder to the store where, for some more money, they’ll plunk it on a DVD. They they recycle the camcorder.

Someone, much wiser than me, figured if the drugstore can get your video off, so can you! You need a special cable (make it yourself or buy it online) and special software.

None of this is particularly difficult, but when seen in the aggregate, it’s a complex process best suited to nerds and geeks.

Finally, after all that is done, you need to download and install the XVid codec. Without that, the video is invisible to your PC.

So, $30 camcorder – yes. But, there’s a lot of work after you give CVS or Rite Aid your cash.

Here’s the ‘hangout‘ for all the people using these. Unfortunately, the good info is poorly organized and hidden within rambling conversations and pleas for help.

All this being said, you might ask why am I using this little POS&#185 camcorder? Simply, it forces me to concentrate on the basics. I have to think about every shot. There’s no zooming. With a relatively long lens, panning is prohibitively shaky. On top of that, you can only capture about 25 minutes of video.

It is a challenge, plain and simple. That’s the fun!

&#185 – In reality, the camcorder is very solidly built and the video quality is superb.