Wed | Nov 21, 2018

Evan Thompson | Who cares about the forecast anyway?

Published:Wednesday | September 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Thompson
To avoid soiling or damaging their shoes days into the new school year, these children make their way home on a rainy day barefoot on September 12. Meteorologist Evan Thompson is baffled about the lack of interest in weather forecasts until heavy rain is bearing down on us.
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I find it very interesting the way many of our people think, and how much interest is shown in the weather and preparedness for severe weather conditions.

As I write this letter seated in my living room at home with the sound of thunder punctuating the noisy torrents of rain on the outside, I wonder whether we take advantage of the weather forecasts prepared and provided daily, or even twice daily, in our tropical country. I laugh to myself and ask, "Who cares about the forecast anyway?"

Since about Wednesday last week, about five days ago, the Meteorological Service had been advising of the imminent entry of Hurricane Isaac into the Eastern Caribbean as it journeyed westward. Forecasters were busy monitoring Isaac's every movement and apprising themselves of all available material, including the output of sophisticated numerical weather prediction models, to determine the most likely path of the tropical cyclone and the best guess as it related to the impact of the system on Jamaica's weather.

 

SYSTEM GUIDANCE

 

Although the computer models varied on the exact path of the tropical storm/hurricane, and even on the actual intensity at which it would reach the central Caribbean Sea, there was agreement that the impact would have been felt starting on the weekend, specifically on Sunday, but continuing on Monday.

The guidance also suggested that rainfall deposits would have increased on Monday, and numbers of 100-150mm, or nearly six inches, were mentioned. The projection remained virtually unchanged right throughout the week and into the weekend.

Rains associated with what were by then the remnants of Isaac started to affect Jamaica early on Sunday, with increases in intensity and coverage during the afternoon. Showers lingered during the night in various communities and sprinkled the morning's commuting public on Monday morning. As the day progressed, the public's collective memory faded, and during rush hour on Monday afternoon, the heavens began to open up.

So here I am enjoying the well-needed rainfall and smiling for the camera as God flashes his lightning across the landscape, only to have the interruption of numerous telephone calls asking, "What is happening outside?" Ironically, many of the calls are from the electronic media, requesting voice clips and interviews to placate the anxious minds of radio listeners across the Corporate Area.

 

ACADEMIC EXERCISE?

 

Hence, my questions. How useful do we find warning messages and weather forecasts in the scheme of things locally? In the context where knee-jerk reactions are so often frowned upon, is this nevertheless what is expected of our professionals who are constantly monitoring conditions on our behalf? Are advisories really just an academic exercise to ensure that we can acquit ourselves when the complaints are levelled at us for failing to warn? What do you think?

It, however, explains why so many of us fail to prepare for a hurricane season that occurs at the same time every year. We hear how active it is likely to be and are often reminded that a single hurricane could set back our economic growth projections significantly, but we still sit back and prefer to harbour the notion of meteorologist-media collusion.

You know, I've always found it rather curious that during downpours of rain, I am often asked, "How you didn't tell us that rain was going to fall?" When I respond with, "So you heard the forecast this morning?", the usual answer is, "No. You told us about it?" I sigh, because more times than not, we did! I guess that is something that hard-working meteorologists just have to live with.

- Evan Thompson is director of the Meteorological Service Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and e.thompson@metservice.gov.jm.