Thursday, February 5, 2015

Weather Forcasting


Snowmeggedon. Snowpocalypse. These words are created to inspire fear and dread of events to come. They are also there to create hype for coverage of the said events. Or they could be the name of the next bad SyFy movie.
The meteorologists predicted gloom and despair upon the Northeast with snow accumalations of two to 3 feet. While some places did see that much fall, the hub of media, New York City, fell well short of the mark. This caused several forecasters to come out and publically apologize over the airwaves and social media accounts for their miscalculations.
Luckily, we are in the United States. As recently as this last summer, North Korea’s dictator-in-charge threatened his meteorological staff for getting the weather wrong. North Korea was in a three year drought and he was perturbed that the lack of competence of his weather scientists caused the country’s businesses to suffer. By threats, I mean possible death, by the way. It seemed to play right into the much talked about movie, The Interview.
Meanwhile, back home, we have our own, much hyped, prognosticator of Mother Nature. Since 1841, we Americans have relied on the weather prediction skills of a ground hog.
In case you do not know, the ground hog is one of the largest rodents in North America. Not THE largest, that title belongs to the beaver, but an oversized rat nonetheless. Rats are not very trustworthy as the slang form of the word attests to.
The ground hog is actually a large ground squirrel according to biologists. Of course, the squirrel is a rodent as well. Just as squirrels play havoc to nut bearing trees and anything with electrical wiring (I have seen a squirrel’s nest built in the air filter box of a vehicle with the engine harness chewed in two), the ground hog like to terrorize the earth, burrowing deep cavernous holes that can collapse when the ground gets soft enough and enough weight is placed on top.
Get it right, or this could be your fate Phil!
 
Farmers despise them exactly for this. A good number of heavy farm equipment has toppled to the side or become stuck after hitting these rodent made sinkholes.
But each year, there are gatherings throughout the United States, most notably Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to see what our beloved ground hogs say about the extension of winter or the premature coming of spring.
The sensible person would think that with this being merely a tradition with absolutely no scientific background, that a ground hog such as Punxsutawney Phil would get the prediction correct at somewhere around half the time.
But after much research by someone who had way too much time on their hands, and probably funded by an enormous amount of tax dollars, it comes to bear that the ole wood chuck may know what he is doing after all.
You see, since the tradition can be dated back in America to the 1800’s, and we have historical weather data where we can correlate what the ground hog predicted with how the following weeks actually played out.
The thing is, since the ground hog is a rat, a very large rat as previously determined, it would only make sense for him to deceive us humans. And many of us humans are as ratty as Phil.
While Groundhog Day organizers declare Phil is correct three out of every four years on average, the study showed different results. In records kept since 1887, Phil from Pennsylvania has only been correct 39% of the time. A similar study in Canada showed their celebrations and results were slightly worse, with only a 37% accuracy rate.
Good thing Phil does not live in North Korea.

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