More Dogs on Main Street
This has been a very good ski season. Last year was a record breaker, and I have to admit that I’ve come to expect that kind of snow as a fundamental right. So this year, which is still above average, has been a little bit of a let down. It’s not that we haven’t had the snow, but it’s too warm. I’m not complaining. We’ve had our share of powder days, and plenty of snow and good skiing.
Now that Sundance is here, we should be able to count on a major blizzard. I don’t know if it is the bombardment of radio waves from all those cell phones, the excess particulate matter from all their cigarette and cigar smoke, or some trick played by Pat Robertson to get even with Hollywood, but Sundance and snow go together like Sundance and traffic. The Sundance crowd was here in full force even early in the week. I saw a bunch of them walking down Main Street. They were all dressed in black, of course, and taking those tentative steps of a flatlander not used to walking on slick, sloped sidewalks. They were in a hurry to get someplace, and despite the tiny, careful steps, they moved right along. It was snowing lightly (despite a forecast for "clear"). It looked like a scene from "March of the Penguins."
The weather forecasts for this winter seem to have been worse than usual. I’ve got it pretty well timed so I can flip from TV station to station and get the important parts of several forecasts. They are all working from the same National Weather Service information I can pull up on my computer, but each of them has his or her own secret formula to apply to it. Some read the chicken entrails, others have a million dollar computer system in Tremonton that is supposed to give them the edge over the National Weather Service guys stuck out at the airport. There are crystal balls and ouija boards.
Each time a storm approaches, they get excited, practically salivating over the prospect of a huge storm. Mark Eubank wears his white jacket, Roland Steadham gives his hair an extra coating of shellac, and they all report it with the urgency of a Category 5 hurricane brewing over the Great Salt Lake. And nothing happens. Well, not quite nothing, but close to it. If all the "one to three feet" storms had produced even at the low end of the range, we’d all be crawling out the second story windows in the morning. Sundance would be relying on dogsleds to get around town. For people who are basically paid for making predictions — predictions on which other people base decisions — you would think accuracy would matter.
We don’t ask a lot of our TV weather people. If they give us a range of "one to three feet" of snow in the mountains, we’re OK with that. When you think about it, the difference between one foot and three feet is pretty substantial. There’s a lot of wiggle room in there. Roofs begin to collapse somewhere in there. We expect more precision from other people. If your contractor says a new bathroom will cost between "$10,000 and $30,000" you might not turn him loose with the Sawzall. I suspect that the weathermen themselves demand a little more precision in their contracts than a salary of "between $100,00 and $300,000" a year.
But with snow, well, that’s close enough. We can live with that kind of spread, and recognize that the nature of storms is such that it really will vary that much depending on wind and location. Of course if it is one foot, I can sleep through the night and drive out in the morning. If it is three feet, I have to get up in the middle of the night to plow the road between my house and the highway. Three feet means tire chains.
Still, a range of one to three feet is a mighty big target. They ought to be able to land one in there most of the time. That’s a wide strike zone. My dog can predict a snowfall of between one and three feet every day, and every now and then she would be absolutely right. The rest of the time, she would have a level of accuracy about equal to the TV weather people. Put a couple of million dollars worth of computer equipment, radar, balloon observations and years of historical records into the mix, and it seems fair to ask for a batting average better than .500 when swinging at a range with a spread of 300 percent. The most valuable tool in forecasting the weather is looking out the window and maybe calling your cousin in Winnemucca and asking what’s happening over there. You can’t ask for 100 percent accuracy from the weatherman. They can’t be right all the time. But these guys couldn’t predict parking problems in Old Town during Sundance.
"Right" and "wrong" are relative terms with the weather. If I go to bed having heard that the mountains will get between one and three feet that night, I count six inches as "dead wrong," even if it is great powder. The weatherman would argue that it did, in fact, snow, and he had called for snow, and therefore he got it right. Sorry, but six inches isn’t one to three feet. Rain isn’t one to three feet. When the weatherman calls for one to three feet, anything that doesn’t land within that very generous range counts as a miss in my book. With an ability to predict like that, the weathermen might as well be stockbrokers.
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