Skip to main content

Whether we weather the weather

Published on
30 December 2011

Monarda with bumblebee 1As I write this, it is December 30, 2011, 11am, and I am in Woodstock, Illinois. And it is about 40 degrees and raining.

Okay, that looks as strange in writing as it sounds in my head.

I remember a New Year’s Party when I was in college. A group of us got together at a friend’s house and stayed over night just doing girl stuff. The next morning (or early afternoon) after we had breakfast (or maybe brunch), and went to go home, it was well below zero outside and all of our cars were dead. I had driven my dad’s Buick Riviera (canary yellow with a black half-roof – we called it the bumblebee), and it didn’t even try to turn over. That’s the coldest New Year’s Day I remember.

In contrast, this one sure seems warmer than usual. But it isn’t. This weather is actually normal for the Chicago area. Over the last 140 years, the high temperature on New Year’s Day is most likely to fall between 30 and 39 degrees (nearly 60% of the time). Yep, this is normal.

The forecasters have been predicting a wetter and colder than normal winter in the US this year, and I guess some areas of the country are seeing that already, but not here!

Weather forecasts are made by collecting quantitative data about the current conditions in the atmosphere and using scientific understanding of atmospheric processes to predict how the atmosphere will change over some period of time. (paraphrased from Wikipedia’s page on Meteorology – which has nothing to do with meteors…).

In today’s world there are so many data available from every corner of the planet at any given moment, that meteorologists have been able to develop sophisticated computer models to help them make predictions for the future. But they are still just predictions (which is another word for “educated guess”). And, let’s face it, it is a standard joke in most parts of the world that weather “forecasters”might have a better success rate if they looked up at the sky instead of relying on their computer models.

We all know what no computer will admit: Mother Nature will have the final say.