Saturday, February 27, 2016

Weather Report

We have been snookered, hoodwinked, bamboozled and beguiled.

We bought a “Rolex” watch from some guy on the street corner. We believed we won millions in some foreign lottery.  We gave money to the nice young man at the front door who said he was supporting an orphanage. We bought mutual funds from Bernie Madoff.

We hunkered down for a really wet winter.

We repaired the roof and replaced the gutters. We laid in a supply of sandbags. We placed cisterns beneath the downspouts. We bought kayaks. We grew lax about conserving water.

We were ready for a powerful El Nino, a “Godzilla” weather event, which we were told would wash away all memories of our drought. There would be long showers and green lawns for everyone.

We’re still waiting, our eyes turned heavenward in hopes that our blue skies will turn gray. But you know you’re in trouble when forecasters start throwing around words like “miracle” when discussing the chances of rain.

In the meantime, the weather remains drier than the backyard bird bath.

It is in our nature to point the bony finger of blame when things don’t go as planned. 
So we take it out on weather forecasters  who run a close second to lawyers when it comes to tainted reputations.

Ask anyone. They'll tell you that we're relying on the word of a bunch an inept soothsayers who never look out the window to check conditions. Shame on us for believing them.

Except it’s a bad rap.

Sure, it’s easy to disparage many of our so-called TV weather experts who wouldn't know a dew point from a doughnut.

But the fact is that weather prediction has come a long way since the 1920s, when, working by hand, English mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson needed six weeks to come up with a six-hour forecast.

Thanks to computers, the amount of information on the Earth’s climate at any given time is staggering.

Yet, even in skilled hands, predicting the weather remains an inexact science.

It is a complex phenomenon that depends on temperature, clouds, precipitation, wind and pressure. For good measure, throw in ground and sea temperatures, ocean currents as well as atmospheric pollution.

Mix it all together and come up with a forecast.

It sounds easy. It isn’t. Take it from Bill Patzert, the esteemed climatologist at JPL in La Canada Flintridge.  “You just have to stare at the data,” he said. “Stare at it until your eyeballs are black and blue.”

Jim Yoe, chief administrator of the government’s Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation, told Forbes magazine that he figures the theoretical limit on accurate forecasting with today’s technology is on the order of two weeks.

That means that seasonal data models are basically crap shoots, as anyone knows who this year brought out the sunscreen and put away the umbrella.

Patzert, the go-to guy on weather who gets more ink that Donald Trump, was a leading voice in predicting an El Nino condition this year.

Don’t knock it. He was right.  El Niño is being blamed for drought conditions in parts of the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, as occurred in 1997-98.

Drought is also persistent in Central America. Water levels are now so low in the waterways that make up the Panama Canal that officials recently announced limits on traffic through the passageway that links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

El Niño also influenced the heavy rainstorms that effectively ended drought conditions in Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma, and has brought floods and mudslides to Chile.

But it hasn’t made an appearance in Southern California, thanks in large part to a high pressure ridge that deflected storms away from us to the north.

If there’s an upside to this it’s that since we import most of our water, it appears we’ll have a bigger supply to draw from.

Pazert remains optimistic that the rains may still come. "As we look back, the big show is usually in February, March — even into April and May," he said. "So, in many ways, this is on schedule."

And if it isn’t? We had better consider that a real possibility and jump back on the water conservation bandwagon and do it now. If we don’t, there could be hell to pay this summer.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.

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