Sat | May 27, 2017

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Weather forecasters not crying wolf

Published:Tuesday | May 16, 2017 | 5:00 AM

In the absence of information, people panic. And when an impending hurricane threatens, only a local weather forecaster can truly reduce that panic.

I remember when I just started doing weather back in 2003, and the newsroom routine whenever we had a hurricane threat was 'Start with Weather Channel'. In this thick American accent came reports about a "hurricane bearing down on Florida". And people would be home thinking, "But I don't live in Florida. I live in Jamaica." What should I do? What does that mean for me?

These lead stories in the Jamaican newscasts were about how badly Florida could possibly be hit and when impact with Florida was likely to occur, and you would hear Jamaica mentioned as a by-the-way passover en route to the USA. And that thing ticked me off.

We had competent professionals here who could, and should, be given the chance to share Jamaica specific updates with Jamaicans, from the start of the news. Why were they being sidelined?

The Atlantic hurricane season starts in two weeks, and every weather forecaster in Jamaica is preparing for it. Knowing just how susceptible Jamaica is to the ravages of strong winds and heavy rains, forecasters are preparing to keep the nation not only informed, but forewarned.

Every weather forecaster is also preparing for the sure and certain fact that at some point within the next six months, their professional competence is going to be called into question. They are going to get attacked and/or ridiculed and, invariably, their accuracy is going to be compared to that of US weather forecasters. Someone is going to accuse them of crying wolf. It comes with the territory.

Having done this weather girl thing for 14 years come July, I still haven't crafted the right response to, "How you tell me say rain a guh fall?" How accurately can you predict what will happen in your own life tomorrow?

Very few of the variables that interplay throughout our days are within our control. And as much as we have routines and make plans, stuff happens, and presumed outcomes sometimes change. In the same way, Weather isn't controlled by the weather girl, and until and unless that is the case, weather predictions will never be 100 per cent accurate. Not even close.

Weather forecasting in Jamaica is a collective effort between man and machine. Both assess what the weather currently is, and what it has been in the past, to come up with a prediction of what's most likely to occur. It's a scientific guessing game, but the best we have available to us now.

 

Comparisons

 

For those who compare us to our neighbours to the north, understand this: Florida is 15.5 times as big as Jamaica. And not even the Weather Channel, with all its hurricane planes and high-tech, ultra-advanced machinery and super-computer models, not even its experts can tell Floridians exactly when and where to expect rain.

So I'm pretty darn proud of local weather forecasters who, even with their many resource limitations, most times get it right.

Because daily forecasts are sometimes imprecise, I've heard media managers ponder aloud, "Why do we need weather anyway?" and I silently chuckle to myself and think, "Ask that question again when a hurricane is coming."

During Hurricane Matthew, my team and I got zero sleep. We stayed up tracking the storm for 60 hours straight. I had 196,000 people tuned in to my Facebook page each hour for updates - the kind of updates Weather Channel had no interest in giving.

My charge to weather forecasters this hurricane season, and in fact any day you share your predictions, broaden yuh back. Continue to use your knowledge and experience to share with viewers what will most likely happen next. And because meteorology is far from a precise science, the occasional missed prediction is no indictment on you, the weather forecaster.

And this hurricane season, if we tell Jamaica a storm might come, and one doesn't, who waan vex, vex!

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.