Everything Language and Grammar

Weather Forecast: Is Anyone Listening?

Posted by languageandgrammar on September 10, 2008

Listening, as I stated in a recent post (Political Attacks), is as important to communication as what is being said and, thus, is never more obvious than with a weather forecast. As a meteorologist with many years of experience, I enjoy hearing a weather forecast being discussed by the general population almost as much as the general population enjoys making jokes about forecast accuracy. The reason I enjoy it so much is that it’s usually treated the same as a good old-fashioned rumor, with key words being omitted or the meaning being interpreted differently as it’s passed from person to person.

Two words often omitted by those discussing the weather are chance or possible, and these are important words for a meteorologist. Chance of snow tomorrow is often abbreviated to It’s going to snow tomorrow—but those don’t mean the same thing. In fact, many forecasters often add a percentage chance to the precipitation possibility in order to make it more clear, such as 30% chance of a shower. That actually means 70% chance of dry weather, so blindly changing it to It’s going to rain tomorrow is not logical.

When Partly sunny with a shower possible becomes It’s going to rain tomorrow, there’s another, potentially bigger, problem. A shower is often a short event, generally 30 minutes to an hour long, while rain is often an all-day affair. The forecast that it’s not going to rain all day is probably why the weather man used the term shower instead of rain in the first place. He doesn’t come to work and change your reports before you hand them to your boss, so you shouldn’t change his either.

Another common problem includes dismissing the lower end of a forecast snow amount; a forecast of 6-12 inches of snow tomorrow means that six inches is as likely as 12, but it’s nearly universally repeated as We’re going to get a foot of snow.

I could go on–I’ve got a million of them–but you get the point. Now that I’ve had my fun, you may resume making jokes at the weather man’s expense.

–Paul

Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever;

Sherry’s Grammar List

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