Rain or snow is all I need to know

I can put up with the crummy weather easily enough. The slow beat of February gray will surely pass again into the fresh tempo of April. Itís the darn weathermen that give me the winter blues.
    Some of these sleet-slingers act like itís secret information it gets cold in January.
    A couple of months ago, the National Weather Service was boasting about its new supercomputer. Last week, they were apologizing for their high-tech Nostradamus after it called for a dusting in Washington D.C. at the very same time a ton of the white stuff was falling on its very ceiling.
    The spokesman on television said that a computer is only as good as the information put into it. Seems logical enough. But then the guy puffed out his plastic protected-pocket chest and said something like "And donít forget that last fall we did say that the Northeast would get at least one big snowstorm this winter."
    How about that. I half-expected him to add something about darkness expected at nighttime.
    Itís not that I donít like weather forecasts. They are quite handy things and most of the time the Willards, Milesí Brads and Dr. Mels of our TV world get them right. But they donít have to act like theyíve called the Powerball numbers in advance.
    One of the local television stations gives us a "Guaranteed Pinpoint Forecast." The guarantee means that if they miss the high temperature by 5 degrees up or down, they draw a name out of a jar and send the winner an umbrella. Their accuracy score is usually in the high eighty or low ninety percent range.
    I did a little experiment and looked up the temperature records for all of 1999. If you predicted tomorrowís high temperature in Connecticut simply by using the one from today, you would be right 55 percent of the time. Yeah I know, one year isnít a big enough sampling for a scientific study, but the stuff isnít exactly like reading a John Grisham thriller.
    In predicting rain or snow in 1999, New England weather forecasters are right three-quarters of the time when they look 12 hours out and a little better than 50-50 when they predict the next 24-36 hours.
    Not bad. Weather forecasting is indeed better than it was a generation or two ago, when a blizzard or hurricane could come out of nowhere and threaten lives. Itís not like I donít like knowing (maybe) what the skies hold in store. I could even put up with all the hootiní and holleriní every time we get an inch of snow if it werenít for all the melodramatics about "wind chill factor."
    These folks just like to say "wind chill of ten below" because it sounds so much more important than saying "25 degrees." A new study was just released saying the formula for wind chill is probably wrong anyway, but what it is supposed to measure is how much colder it feels on a windy day. The number they give you purports to show how cold "exposed" skin feels in the wind.
    Most of the people I know wear clothes. A wind chill of ten below zero is how frigid it would seem if you were standing buck naked in a breeze stiff enough to keep Charlie Brownís kite out of the tree.
    This is useful information to nudist wintertime beach volleyball players, but itís just puff to the rest of us.
    What is useful to know is if it is going to rain. Some of these new tools the meteorologists have work pretty well. If youíre heading out on a June evening to play some ball and the Weather Channel radar shows a big green blob off to the left of Connecticut, say around Albany, then you are probably going to get wet.
    Maybe itís not totally fair to blame the forecasters for all the hype. They do put it on the line and are more often on the money than off the mark. Thatís more than you can say for the political prognosticators. Remember how they all declared there was no way for President Clinton to Timex (take a licking and keep on ticking) himself through the whole Monica business?
    No, the television stations probably hired some MBA marketing consultant who declared viewers want a weather forecast preceded by the words " Millennium Super Doppler Vege-matic state-of-the-art storm-tracking System.
    Me, I just want to know if I need a raincoat or a sweater.

January 31, 2000