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  • Groundhog Day: Who Do You Trust More, a Rodent or the Weatherman?

    Punxsutawney PhilHappy Groundhog Day, a day in which we pretend one of 52 animals, some of them stuffed, can predict the weather. Or, as Bill Murray put it in Groundhog Day, the day to “worship a rat.”

    Punxsutawney Phil, the most popular weather-forecasting groundhog, predicted an early spring this year. In the folk myth, if the groundhog casts a shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter. If it doesn’t, spring will come earlier.

    You may not want to break out the galoshes yet, though. The Stormfax Almanac reported that the rodent’s predictions have been correct 39 percent of the time. No offense to Phil, but that accuracy rate kinda stinks. The National Weather Service tries for a seasonal forecast accuracy rate of at least 60 percent, according to Livescience.

    Many variables affect the accuracy of a forecast.

    For example, it’s easiest to predict precipitation, in part because you’ll have precipitation or you won’t, according to a story in Gawker that used information from ForecastAdvisor, a company that grades the accuracy of U.S. forecasting organizations like the National Weather Service and AccuWeather.

    “Predicting clear skies every day would net you 70 percent accuracy in many parts of the country,” said the Gawker story.

    Prediction accuracy also depends on regions of the country. For example, I used to live in eastern Colorado, where one day’s high and low temperatures were sometimes more than 50 degrees apart, even during the winter. That’s common in the Midwest.

    The farther out in time meteorologists try to predict the weather, the lower the accuracy rate of their predictions, according to a look at forecast data published in the Huffington Post. This is true even on a week-to-week basis.

    Another story in Gawker compared U.S. seasonal forecasts for winter 2013-2014 to the actual national weather for the period. The results were quite different. Seasonal forecasts like Punxsutawney Phil’s just estimate odds that an area will experience a certain type of weather, based on comparing current patterns to historical ones (one article compared it to the way buying baby products at Target suggests that a person may be having a baby). For example, because this has been a strong El Niño year, meteorologists could suggest that major storms were more likely for the southeast and much of California.

    Meteorological organizations use different models to predict things like storm tracks, storm speed and precipitation. This can cause problems for people trying to decide how bad a major storm will really be. For example, the January 27, 2015 blizzard that clobbered New England was first considered easier than feared– because it was forecast to slam New York City. It was the sixth-largest storm recorded in Boston.

    So, while meteorologists do the best they can – and frankly, their best is far better than it was even 10 years ago, you shouldn’t rely solely on their information for seasonal planning.

    Instead, use a dash of early planning. At the beginning of winter, if you live in an area that gets bad snowstorms, make sure you’ve got snow-clearing equipment. Don’t wait until right before a storm, when supplies may be running low. Often, the best time to go shopping for seasonal supplies is at the end of a season, when stores put them on sale.

    E-Card PNGMake sure you’ve got food, water, and heating supplies.

    In short, common sense, uncommon as it may be, is probably the best course in preparing for a season. And not paying attention to a 130-year-old celebration of a rodent.

    - Melissa

    Who do you trust more with your long-term forecasts, the weatherman or the groundhog?



  • Lightning in Los Angeles

    lightning in Los Angeles

    In a rare display of wild summer weather, Southern California saw one death and a dozen injuries from lightning at the end of July. While summer is prime time for thunder and lightning storms (read why here) in some parts of the country, it’s a less common phenomenon on the West Coast.

    Which just goes to show the urgency of preparedness. If disasters were completely predictable, they wouldn’t be disasters, I suppose.

    Fox News describes the “monsoon moisture,” warm and humid, which led to countless reports of lightning and thunder around the Los Angeles region, as well as flooding on Catalina Island. The fatality took place on the popular Venice Beach, where people surfed, swam, and played volleyball as thunderclouds gathered overhead.

    The Red Cross reminds us that we should head inside at the first sound of thunder and that water is particularly dangerous in a thunderstorm. In fact, the list of tips they posted for this year’s Lightning Safety Awareness Week advises we stay safely indoors for at least 30 minutes after the last audible thunder clap. The Red Cross, NOAA, and AccuWeather.com all have great articles and tip lists for lightning safety. And if you want a little more reading, here are some of our recent articles on the deadly beauty.

    I know it’s summer, and we all want to be outside, just remember to keep  an eye on the skies. Better a ruined picnic than a trip to the ER!



  • What to Expect (or not) from El Nino

    What to Expect (or not) from El Nino

    Here’s a cheerful headline to brighten your week: “El Niño is Going to Make Your 2014 Miserable.” Thank you, salon.com, for the good news.

    Actually, 2014 is half over already, and it’s been a pretty fair six months for me, so I’m not getting too hand-wringy quite, yet. I am, however, interested to see what kinds of wacky weather the warm Pacific currents have in store.

    The trick about El Niño, as we were informed by the Weather Channel recently (see their article, “Hurricane Season 2014: 5 Things You Need to Know”), is that its effects are famously unpredictable. Even salon.com’s efforts to sound dire are compromised, as experts warn us that the year could be unusually wet or unusually dry…or, um, neither.

    “Regions across the U.S. that are normally wet can dry out during El Niño conditions, while normally dry regions can flood.” Worldwide expectations related to El Niño are not always accurate, however. “There is an expectation of drought, but not in every single El Niño event do we actually have drought,” Lisa Goddard, director of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, said.

    Well, that certainly clears things up.

    Sounds to me like a good time to be prepared for any eventuality. So here are some articles to help get you set for whatever El Niño has in store for your area.

    Keep an eye on the skies, and let us know how El Niño is affecting you this year!


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