Storms That Never Strike, Lessons Never Learned

Two weekends ago a major storm, Hurricane/Tropical Storm Hermine, was supposed to hit parts of Delaware and New Jersey fairly hard. It didn’t: the surf was rough, most beach towns prohibited people from going into the water, and there was minor flooding, but the storm stalled in the ocean and never did any real damage.

Which, lest we forget, is a good thing.

In anticipation of the storm, the governor of New Jersey declared a state of emergency and some beach towns urged people to evacuate. They decided it was better to be safe than to be sorry.

Which, lest we forget, is a good thing.

Some people were inconvenienced, to be sure. People who were on vacation, for example, left early and were upset later that they had left “for nothing.”

As if the alternative – sticking it out and finding yourself stranded by a storm, or harmed, far from home – was a reasonable thing to do.

And people who owned businesses in the towns that were more or less abandoned in anticipation of bad weather were furious that their elected officials and weather forecasters “scared away” their customers.

Because apparently, a single weekend’s business was going to make or break their year.

And afterward, people were angry that the forecasters got it wrong. They insisted that forecasters had overhyped the storm, questioned their integrity, questioned their ability, and suggested that they, too, would like a job where you can be so wrong so often and keep your job. (Many wanted the weather forecasters fired, as if it was their fault that the storm changed course.)

We have seen this time and time again: there’s a forecast for a major storm of some sort – hurricane, blizzard, major winds, fearsome heat or cold – and the forecast proves inaccurate. When making those forecasts, the forecasters always – always – remind their listeners and viewers of the unpredictability of the path the impending storms will take and remind them that slight deviations in those paths could significantly change the outcome, either for better or for worse.

Yet people continue to heap blame and scorn on those who make the forecasts.

Instead of learning.

Learning that forecasting the weather, while based in science, is not an exact science, that there is always a margin of error, and that a meaningful proportion of the time, the forecast will be wrong.

And that’s just how it is.

And people should just accept that and stop complaining.

And remember that the next time a storm system that is not considered a major threat veers off course and causes real, unexpected damage, they will be the first people to complain just as bitterly that they were not adequately warned and that the forecasters were incompetent and the public officials negligent in carrying out their responsibilities.

People need to just stop complaining about it.

(Curmudgeons excepted, of course.)

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