Don’t Stop Now–Keep Meeting Year-Round!

Listening to interesting presentations from experts, encountering new ideas, chatting with old friends, and meeting new ones. This doesn’t have to stop in Atlanta: AMS local chapters provide the same networking opportunities and learning experiences all year long. Fortunately, the AMS Annual Meeting is a great time to find out more about them.

Local chapters have been a part of the American Meteorological Society’s framework almost from the beginning, with the first chapter formed in Boston in 1929. Whether you are a meteorology student or a professional, AMS chapters offer a superabundance of opportunities, from community outreach projects that further AMS goals, to engaging presentations from scientific leaders, to interactions with others in the profession. The likes of Louis Uccellini, director of the NWS; Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center; Ginger Zee, Good Morning America meteorologist; Bryan Norcross, Weather Channel meteorologist; and Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for the Space Weather Prediction Center have all captivated hundreds of members at local chapter meetings.

Local Chapters are active in many other ways. Members participate in

  • student-run television weather shows
  • collaborations with emergency managers to develop newspaper articles and storm safety tips
  • tours of local news stations and NWS offices
  • public school programs aimed at encouraging 
ethnically diverse 
students to pursue STEM degrees
  • mixers for networking with meteorologists in all sectors of the field
  • conferences such as the Annual Northeastern Storm Conference (which is in its 39th year)

This week at the Annual Meeting check out the Local Chapter poster display in Hall C3 and read about each chapter’s history and recent activities. You can also stop by the Local Chapter Booth at the AMS Resource Center in the Exhibit Hall (Booth 415) and take a look at a map showing the locations of each chapter. With 64 regular chapters and 74 student chapters throughout the US and Puerto Rico, there is bound to be a local chapter near you.

If you are unable to attend the Annual Meeting this year, worry not. Visit the Local Chapter Website at http://www.ametsoc.org/amschaps/ for more information, the Chapter Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/amslcac, or contact the Local Chapter Affairs Committee at amschaps@ametsoc.org.

student_chap_ofthe_year

 

Congratulations to the Iowa State University chapter, the 2012-13 Student Chapter of the Year (above), and the North Florida chapter, the 2012-13 AMS Chapter of the Year (below).

chap_ofthe_year

Buy This Book and Save the Planet

Saving the planet is a cooperative effort, says William Hooke of the AMS Policy Program. It will also take some humility, scientific savvy, a willingness to act on limited information, and an understanding of when to approximate and when to be precise. It also means dealing with a world of chaos–in short, it means thinking like a meteorologist. Hence, Hooke’s newly released AMS book,  Living on the Real World: How Thinking and Acting Like Meteorologists Will Help Save the Planet.  real_world

“It’s very easy in management to think that what you’re doing doesn’t matter very much,” he says. But, like the atmosphere, the slightest fluctuations have a significant impact and managers in science should consider Lorenz’s butterfly effect. “The littlest thing that I do has ripple effects that expand out and change the world forever,” he says. “That’s an important thing for every one of seven billion people to embrace. Otherwise, we feel we get lost, we’re insignificant in the scheme of things.”

Hooke sat down with BAMS Editor in Chief Jeff Rosenfeld to discuss the book and the importance of collaboration in meteorological research and even management; the whole interview can be found here. Stop by to meet Bill and get a copy of Living on the Real World at the book signing event at the AMS Resource Center in the Exhibit Hall during this afternoon’s poster session, 2:30 PM – 4 PM. Copies are limited, so it’s first-come, first-served, but the book will be released soon and available at the AMS Bookstore.

AMS Book Takes ASLI Awards by Storm

Wednesday afternoon, AMS Books will take a bow. Taken by Storm 1938: A Social and Meteorological History of the Great New England Hurricane, authored by Lourdes B. Avilés and published by the AMS, will receive an ASLI Choice Award in the historical category. taken_by_storm_cover  The book, which documents both the science of the storm and its social impacts, was recognized by ASLI for “its comprehensive account of this major storm, from its inception to aftermath.” (You can learn more about the book and see an interview with Avilés here.)

The winning title in the science and technology category is Mathematics and Climate, by Hans Kaper and Hans Engler, published by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. ASLI lauded the book for “its accessible explanations in key areas where climate and mathematics meet.” mathematics_climate There was also an honorable mention in the historical category: Probing the Sky with Radio Waves: From Wireless Technology to the Development of Atmospheric Science, by Chen-Pang Yeang, published by the University of Chicago Press, selected for “its very thorough, technical history of radio waves and their importance to ionospheric science.”

This is the ninth year that Atmospheric Science Librarians International has recognized the best books in in the fields of meteorology/climatology/atmospheric sciences. The award presentation will take place Wednesday at 4:45 at the ASLI booth (#732) in the Exhibit Hall, and before that, from 2:45 to 4:00, Avilés will be signing her book at the AMS Resource Center in the Exhibit Hall. Stop by, meet the author, and purchase a copy of her award-winning book!

 

The Polar Vortex Meets Rapid Refresh

In 1959 the AMS published a tome that became the touchstone document for a generation. The Glossary of Meteorology served its purpose well. So well that a 41-member editorial board and over 300 labored for five years to ensure the quality of the expanded, refreshed second edition of that volume…in 2000.

A lot happened in the meantime in the atmospheric sciences, largely because this community emphatically does not update itself solely on 41-year cycles.

Quite the contrary. There’s this thing called the Annual Meeting, for example. Refreshing our knowledge, contacts, perspectives, and priorities is what an AMS Annual Meeting is all about. If you peruse the program this week, you’ll find that practically every session has some abstract or title using the word “update.”

None of these presentations approaches updates with more earnestness than in the world of forecasting, where the pace of update has earned the phrase, “rapid refresh.” That would be RAP, in the parlance of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction: the 13-km resolution, hourly-updated mesoscale system so useful in convective forecasting, energy load prediction, and aviation products, among other things.

This week is a good opportunity to rapidly update your understanding of what’s going on with the newest edition of the RAP (version 2) and the nested 3-km rapid refreshing “High Resolution Rapid Refresh” model nested within it. HRRR is getting implemented at NCEP this year.  Soon to follow are cloud microphysics enhancements and more. Eventually the rapid refresh pace will enter the world of ensembles, too. For more details get over to Room C203 today (Tuesday) at 2:45 PM to hear Stephen Weygandt et al. and then to the Georgia Ballroom 2 Wednesday at 11:15 AM to hear Stan Benjamin et al, and then again Room C203 for Patrick Hoffman et al.’s presentation on Thursday.

It seems only appropriate, then, to give credit to the Glossary for following the forecasters’ lead into the realm of rapid refresh. We no longer need wait 41 years for an update in defining the core terminology of scientific discourse. The Glossary has moved to the Web. Under the pioneering editorship of Mary Cairns, it takes about 50 days on average to peer review new definitions and terms. Then bingo, the word is officially published.

This week, in fact, while RAP is working on its updates, the Glossary came out with one of its own.  The word of the month—or at least in January—was the “polar vortex.” Here’s a peak at what “polar vortex” meant in 1959:

polar vortex–(Also called polar cyclone, polar low, circumpolar whirl.) The large-scale cyclonic circulation in the middle and upper troposphere centered generally in the polar regions. Specifically, the vortex has two centers in the mean, one near Baffin Island and another over northeast Siberia. The associated cyclonic wind system comprises the westerlies of middle latitudes.

As it turns out, observations were already showing that the polar vortex was not merely a stratospheric phenomenon. This was one of the major changes incorporated in the 2000 edition. But during the endless media mangling of the polar vortex during the recent cold snaps and snows, experts discussing the terminology found some problems with the way the second edition had formulated the definition. So…a proposal for a change was submitted to chief editor Cairns. Within a few weeks, the proposal was peer reviewed and resulted in a new definition posted 30 January 2014.

Cairns tells us the new definition removes an inaccuracy and was updated to eliminate ambiguity and define seasonal characteristics of the vortex evolution. There is also now new language specifically addressing a subdefinition for the “polar stratospheric vortex.” It reads:

A planetary-scale mid- to high-latitude circumpolar cyclonic circulation, extending from the middle troposphere to the stratosphere. The Northern Hemisphere vortex often features two centers—one near Baffin Island and the other over northeast Siberia—with analogous circumpolar asymmetry atypical in the Southern Hemisphere. The westerly airflow is largely a manifestation of the thermal wind above the polar frontal zone of middle and subpolar latitudes. The vortex is strongest during the winter in the upper troposphere and stratosphere when the pole-to-equator temperature gradient is strongest. The stratosphere component of the circulation may be referred to separately as the “polar stratospheric vortex.” In summer, the strongest westerly circulation is largely confined to the troposphere, and the polar stratospheric vortex reverses in the upper stratosphere because of solar heating during the polar day.

But enough with the polar vortex, right? Back to our own ongoing rapid refresh here in Atlanta.

What information does a weather forecast contain?

A colleague of mine said something years ago that struck me as insightful:  every model forecast ever issued was wrong!  Wrong in some way or another, to a greater or lesser extent.  Obviously, some forecasts are better than others, but none of them have ever been absolutely perfect.  His point was to suggest that human forecasters need to avoid basing their forecasts purely on Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) model output - a notion with which I agree fully.  However, the same can be said of every forecast ever issued by human forecasters, as well!  The reality is that we can never predict the weather with absolute certainty.  I've not the space nor the inclination to go into the details of why this isn't just my opinion (maybe later) - it is, rather, based solidly in our scientific understanding of the atmosphere.  So, put in terms of the information content of a weather forecast of any sort, a weather forecast is not a statement of what definitely and certainly is about to happen in the future, in detail.

Because weather has substantial impact on human society, it's obvious that people want to know what's going to happen weatherwise ahead of time.  I'm fond of saying "Yes, of course, and people in Hell want a glass of ice water!" - which I heard many years ago from a co-worker.  What people want isn't necessarily what they're going to get.  The fact is that we have never been able to provide that sort of information and there is every reason to believe we'll never have that capability.  That notwithstanding, our relationship to our users predominantly has been such as to perpetuate the myth that we can provide that with 100% confidence.  Users want something and we pretend we can give it to them.  Surely our users know by now that such a capability doesn't exist!  Their own empirical evidence is that we can't do it and that evidence is at least a contributor to the widespread notion that weather forecasts are inevitably and totally wrong.

If plausible bounds are put on what constitutes a good forecast (as opposed to a perfect forecast), it should be noted that these days, today's weather forecasts are correct (within those bounds) a high percentage of the time (e.g., for 24-h daily maximum and minimum temperatures within 5 degrees of the observed value, it's about 85% or better).  So our weather forecasts currently contain useful information (despite not being perfect), within some limits, out to about 7-10 days.  What you experience is usually fairly close to what we forecast most of the time.  Beyond that "predictability limit" of 7-10 days, our weather forecasts become no more accurate than what we would see if we simply forecast what climatology (i.e., the long term averages for a particular location, date, and time) says we should expect.  At that limit point, we say our forecasts no longer have any skill, relative to climatology.  The greater the lead time, the less accurate the forecasts (and the lower their skill), on the average, out to the predictability limit.

What I would like to have us do is re-negotiate the contract we have with the users of weather information.  We need to be able to provide them with whatever forecast information we have, including some sort of statement of the uncertainty associated with the information we have.  Let's put aside the existing relationship, in favor of putting information out that we actually have to capability to provide!  Now the language of uncertainty is probability, and I'm constantly being told that people don't want probability (the glass of water in Hell problem) or they don't understand probability.  You don't need to be an expert in probability theory to put it to good use, and many people are very familiar with the notion of odds (probability in another form).  What we are doing now, with the lone exception of precipitation probabilities, is pretending to provide absolute certainty.  The historical background of how Probability of Precipitation (PoP) was introduced is interesting but far more than I want to expound upon in this blog.  Whatever the problems are with PoPs, they are a far more meaningful way to express our forecast information than all the non-probabilistic elements in a weather forecast.  If we don't express our uncertainties, we are actually withholding information from forecast users!  That can't be a good thing, and it comes back to bite us, time and time again.

An analogy with sports is a fair comparison, at least to some extent.  Our predictions for who will win the Super Bowl in the pre-season have much greater uncertainty than the night before the game is actually played.  Even then, there remains some uncertainty, and reasonable people can disagree about the outcome right up to the time the whistle blows and the winner is known with absolute certainty.

Therefore, to answer the question posed by the title of this blog, a weather forecast contains the forecaster's best estimate of what that forecaster (who might possibly be an NWP model) anticipates is going to happen with the weather.  It's not a guess, but rather our assessment of the situation and what we believe is the most probable weather that will occur, at the time we issued the forecast, given the finite accuracy limits on the method used to create that forecast.  As new information comes in, that forecast can change, sometimes dramatically.  Our diagnosis of what is about to happen virtually never coincides precisely with reality, but at times we can get it fairly close, especially at the shorter lead times.

A weather forecast always should include information about forecast uncertainty and that is necessarily going to be more complicated to explain than just reading a list of numbers.  More information inevitably requires more effort.  If the user is going to make the best use of the information we reasonably can provide, the user must accept some of the responsibility to pay attention to the forecast, to learn what the forecast actually is saying.  If all you want is the numbers, then you've forfeited a good deal of the value the forecast is trying to provide.  The choice can be left up to the user.

Forecast frustrations

Yesterday's events in the southeastern US have revealed, yet another time, how frustrating it can be to be a forecaster.  Forecasting the weather well is not easy, and there is always the inevitable uncertainty in our forecasts.  Most of the angst forecasters feel when doing their job is derived directly from that uncertainty, and yet that very aspect of forecasting is inescapable.  Although not all forecasters are thoroughly committed to their work, most of those I know are indeed very much absorbed in trying to do their absolute best, all the time.  Forecasting is the most challenging task a meteorologist can tackle and anyone who thinks otherwise is welcome to have a go and see how it works out!

Therefore, it's extremely frustrating when forecasters provide good forecasts and people are still caught in bad weather situations, occasionally becoming casualties of that weather.  In 1987, the Midland, TX forecast office did a superb job with a tornado warning, but the small town of Saragosa was blasted by a violent tornado.  About 10 percent of the town population was killed, including several children!  The forecaster who issued the warning knew some of those killed, and he was devastated by what happened.  It was no consolation to him that he had done his part and done it well.  I was deeply moved by seeing his emotional state - years later, he was still racking his brain trying to think of what else he could have done to prevent the tragedy.  Most forecasters care very much about their job performance, because they know they can make a difference.

What does it take for a forecast to be effective?  Assume that the forecast is perfect (which is impossible).  Then, for that forecast to be effective, the users of that forecast must
  1. receive the forecast information
  2. understand the forecast information
  3. know what to do with the information
  4. believe the information
  5. be able to take effective action based on that information
  6. make the decision to take action when necessary
Every link in this chain is important for the final result.

The winter storm that hit the southeast yesterday affected people who aren't accustomed to such events.  Some were hit very hard with the weather, despite good forecasts well in advance.  Since I've been a professional meteorologist, it's always been frustrating to me that people who experience hazardous weather events that are relatively rare in their region often do little or nothing to prepare for them.  This is no laughing matter - the consequences can be dire.  If such weather events only occur once every 20 years or so, it seems easier and cheaper to do nothing to address their preparedness.  And many people ignore the forecasts, seeking to go about their ordinary business despite the extraordinary weather conditions.  It's as if they want things to be normal and somehow believe they can force the situation to be normal by behaving normally - in abnormal circumstances.  Users surely must believe the forecasts if they are to help themselves make the right decisions.  Was a lack of belief in the forecasts why so many were caught in life-threatening situations by yesterday's winter storm?  It might be helpful to do a serious survey to investigate the reasons.

If a particular form of hazardous weather is rare in your location, that doesn't mean it can never happen - only that it will be infrequent.  And yes, it can happen to you, in particular!  It's not just about hype and scare tactics - hazardous weather is serious business - definitely not a joke.  Sure, sometimes it turns out to be a false alarm, and forecasters try very hard not to have that happen - but uncertainty means it happens occasionally.  That doesn't mean you can dismiss the forecasts as hyperbole all the time!

It's always better to have something you might need in a hazardous weather event and it turn out that you didn't actually need it, than for you to need it desperately and not have it.  If you expect the best in a situation (e.g., "A tornado won't actually hit my house!"), nevertheless, it's prudent to prepare for the worst, right?  After all, your life and well-being, and those of your loved ones are potentially at stake.  That seems so obvious to me, it's just difficult to imagine why many people behave in ways potentially detrimental to their own self-interest.

I can't pretend to understand why some people refuse to recognize the value and importance of weather forecast.  Yes, the forecasts aren't perfect, but many times, those forecasts offer critically important information for the decision-making process.  A friend of mine told me years ago that "Where you stand on some issue depends on where you sit!"  From where I sit, it's silly and dangerous to ignore the information in a forecast of hazardous weather.  But evidently, from where some people sit, it's quite all right.

It's the job of the forecaster to make as accurate a forecast as possible, but forecasters have little or no control over what must happen to make that forecast effective!  Their primary responsibility is the production of an accurate forecast.  That's what they're educated and trained to do.  Forecasters are basically helpless when any link in the chain breaks - preventing those links from being broken isn't what they're educated and trained for.  It's likely that efforts to educate users about how to understand and use the information would be helpful.  Even if a serious public education campaign were to be done, it likely wouldn't be a perfect solution.
There are many agencies that offer information that can be life-saving regarding hazardous weather, including the National Weather Service, but users must accept the responsibility for their own safety - to learn and put into action the available recommendations.  We can lead the horses to water, but it's up to them to drink.
 

The indifferent stars – More musings about the meaning of life

A friend just posted on Facebook about how stars had to die for us to exist at all.  This stimulated a question in me:  should we worship stars because they died so we can exist?  After all, at least one popular religion worships a deity-figure who supposedly died on their behalf.  A modern physical understanding is that all the atoms that give us existence were cooked up in stars and released by supernovae.  Star stuff come to life, as the late Carl Sagan described us, contemplating our place in the universe.  Apart from notions that what we call 'reality' is simply an illusion, there can be no argument that stars are real.  There's abundant evidence that the core of scientific understanding about stars is in fact a valid interpretation of our star observations.  Those born in the 20th century and after are the first humans to have any understanding of what the stars actually are and how they work.  Our sun is a star, of course, and given that there have been sun-worshippers, why not star-worshippers?

But if stars aren't conscious beings, so far as we can tell, then how could they serve as deities for us, even as they surely are in a very real sense our creators?  We surely were not the product of a conscious intent of stars.  The stars are simply matter and energy, going about their star 'lives' following the laws of physics.  As they are born, mature, and decay, matter and energy flow through them, the atoms now constituting a star aren't the same atoms that made up that star when it was born.

Allow me a diversion into personal experience.  Many years ago, I had a revelation about thunderstorms.  Thunderstorms are not objects, in the sense that they represent a fixed collection of atoms and energy.  Rather, they are processes.   Atoms and energy flow through that process, producing the observations we can make.  Ignoring all the microscale events (quantum fluctuations, etc.), an object  (or, thing) is predominately made up of the same matter from one moment to the next.  A wooden stick, or the water in a sealed container are examples of "things".  If we burn that stick or allow the water in a container free access to its surroundings, there will be changes to the matter and energy distributions.  The stick or the water will be transformed and subject to various processes by which the atoms and energy will be re-arranged, re-combined, and re-distributed.  The stick or water will no longer be in its original form, but the sum of its energy and matter will still exist (remember E = mc2 and the conservation of energy?).  A thunderstorm is a process and there's no clear boundary separating that storm from its environment - how does one draw a bag around a process by which atoms and energy flow through a process?  Where does that process begin and the environment end?

Curiously, we humans can be thought of in very similar terms; i.e., as processes.  The atoms and energy enabling everything we are and everything we can do change with time.  We're not made up of the same atoms and energy that made us up the day we were born, or even conceived.  Although we often think of ourselves as fixed entities, but our consciousness deceives us - it's part of a process that continues throughout our lives within us.  That process includes memories of earlier existence, obviously.  Only lately have we begun to plumb the depths of the connection between our consciousness and the matter that constitutes the framework of our consciousness, a lattice upon which our thoughts are operating.  We have much to learn about that but we do know that our consciousness doesn't survive the death of our bodies.  The existence of something else - call it a soul - that is claimed by some to live beyond our physical existence is unobserved and evidently unobservable, as well as unlikely.

Although stars have matter and energy flowing through them, like we do, I have no way of knowing whether or not stars have consciousness and can think of themselves as entities.  I rather doubt it.  In any case, our physical existence (and the existence of all living entities) is very similar to the existence of the nonliving part of the universe including the stars:  processes going about their business, necessarily obedient to the laws of the natural universe.  One could easily go from this vision of the universe to a sort of pantheism:  We are one with the universe, not man apart from it - a feeling that many have shared as they stared at the stars in the night sky.  Star worship would not be a completely absurd point of view, as the deaths of stars mark the beginnings of our creation in a real way, somewhat analogous to conception.  Science has  connected us inadvertently to something profound (as it often does):  we and the universe are one at a deep level.

The thing about the stars is that no one has a basis to argue that the stars had conscious intent for parts of their matter and energy to be transformed into human beings.  The stars, like all the rest of natural world insofar as we can tell, are absolutely indifferent about our existence.  The stars existed long before us, and will exist long after the human race is gone.  We could worship stars, but the stars can't reciprocate or benefit in any way from our worship.  Our lives have no meaning to the stars, any more than the lives of most particular stars have no meaning to us.  If a nearby star goes supernova and the Earth is bathed in deadly radiation, it will not be the stars punishing us for our transgressions.  Stars are neither good nor evil - but their existence was necessary for us to contemplate ourselves in the context of the universe.

Stars are far closer to us in spirit than some collection of late Bronze Age/early Iron Age mythology, for which zero tangible, credible evidence exists.  If someone feels they must worship something large and powerful, stars make more sense to me than the imaginings of ignorant barely-civilized people thousands of years ago.  If we're inclined to see a meaning for our existence, it's not at all obvious that if you reject Abrahamic religious mythology, there is any meaning to it whatsoever, outside of any meaning you might make up for yourself.  I'm fine with that.  What about you?

The Richard Sherman Brouhaha

If you follow NFL football at all, by now you surely know about the interview with Richard Sherman, Seahawks cornerback, after the game.  I think Mr. Sherman's response could legitimately be called an "outburst" - in subsequent interviews, he called 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree a "mediocre" receiver.  In short, he advanced the notion that he was the best defensive back in the league, whereas his opponent was not very good.  Since then, there has been a enormous amount of talk about the interview, with some apologists saying he was simply still caught up in the on-field emotions, some haters saying he showed himself to be a "thug", and a whole lot of other opinions running a broad gamut.

Of course, the play in question - the game-winning play - resulted in the ball being tipped away from Mr. Crabtree by Mr. Sherman, into the hands of another Seahawk player (linebacker Malcom Smith), ending a drive that might have resulted in a game victory by the 49ers.  As a result of the play, a Seahawk victory was sealed.  It was indeed a great defensive play, with the significance of it magnified by the harsh reality of playoff football:  the winning team goes on to the Super Bowl and the losing team goes home!  But it was just one play, and many other players played a part in the game outcome.  After all, football is a team sport, right?

My first reaction to the interview was that it showed Mr. Sherman to be rather immature - simultaneously bragging about his skills and denigrating the skills of his opponent.  It's been my observation that people who promote themselves, and especially those who do so also by diminishing others, are really expressing an emotional insecurity.  Such attitudes are not universal in the NFL, and most interviews with NFL players are characterized by statements of mutual respect between opponents, as well as gratitude for the contributions by other players on the team.  Playing and surviving in the NFL is tough, and I'm sure many players, even some of the greats, have their moments of insecurity.  There are diverse ways to cope with that, including (but not limited to) the sort of boasting and chest-beating of Mr. Sherman.  And a lot of chippy talk goes on amongst the players on the field during the game that isn't repeated in typical post-game interviews.

Of course, the media are bored with statements of mutual respect and the other cliches that dominate interviews with players:  we're going to play just one game at a time, the winning team played better than we did, the opponent we beat is a great football team, we're going to treat this game like any other game, etc.  Compared to such scripted banality, Mr. Sherman's outburst was a dream come true for the media!  At last!  A player whose responses weren't limited to the team script.  One by-product of Mr. Sherman's outburst is that he became the media's darling, and the rest of the Seahawks team was correspondingly pushed out of the limelight.   I wonder how much Mr. Sherman thought about that consequence before he spoke.

Sadly, another consequence of Mr. Sherman's outburst was a lot of venomous commentary directed at him by viewers of the interview.  Completely unwarranted statements, including the seemingly obligatory racist remarks, were made about Mr. Sherman by people whose knowledge of the player as a human being was virtually nil apart from the few seconds of the interview.  If someone pushes him/herself into the limelight, the result is always like this - opinions are like assholes, of course, and uninformed opinions often come from assholes.  Surely he realized what the response to his remarks could become.  The full range of blowback often includes opinions voiced by racists, and other morons of all sorts and descriptions.  The less said about such, the better.

Had Mr. Sherman chosen to respond with the standard cliches, there would be little notice given to his remarks - only a few folks complaining about how stupid and boring athlete interviews have become.  Instead, the whole run-up to the Super Bowl will be dominated by the fallout from this brief postgame interview.  The interview is larger than the game, at least in the media, for the moment.  If Mr. Sherman is torched by Peyton Manning and his receivers, or if Mr. Sherman pulls off some more great defensive plays, you can imagine the nature of the post-game "analysis" by the media!

Mr. Sherman is a Stanford graduate and evidently is both intelligent and articulate.  One might think that these traits would have prevented him from indulging in the outburst.  Perhaps he was still caught up in the emotions of the moment - I have no way to know that.  But the immaturity and implied insecurity remain, regardless of any "back story" or exculpatory explanations for the outburst.  It's difficult for me to respect self-promoters who publicly denigrate their opponents, no matter how well they perform on the field.

Perhaps later in his NFL career, Mr. Sherman will look back and regret the intemperate remarks he made.  Or perhaps he'll look back and see this moment as the key to a career filled with accolades.  Certainly there are historical precedents for the latter - Mohammed Ali (the self-proclaimed "greatest") comes readily to mind, or Deion "prime time" Sanders.  They weren't all braggadocio - it ain't bragging if you can do it!  His performance on the field over the coming years likely will settle that issue one way or another and if he performs well enough to achieve really high honors (e.g., the NFL HoF) then this flap triggered by his outburst is simply irrelevant and is perhaps only a footnote in his professional career.

Now can we let the dust settle and focus on the game?  Probably not ...

A tragedy or a harbinger?

As the people of Charleston, WV grapple with the challenge of contaminated water from a chemical spill into the public water supply, I probably reacted initially with a rather more partisan view than was appropriate.  My generally liberal views (although not entirely "liberal" - whatever that word might imply to you) saw this as a symptom of the "conservative" (i.e., Republican) position on environmentalism and regulation of industry.  Radically conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives ("radcons", for short) and their supporters seem hell bent on massive deregulation, so it first appeared obvious to me that this incident was inevitable fallout from radcon-backed industry deregulation.  It still seems that way to me.  Deregulation and gutting the budgets of regulatory agencies necessarily will lead to an increasing number of these "accidents" - which to my mind are not so clearly accidental when they arise from willful neglect. Imagine the airlines without the FAA and NTSB.  Or the drug industry without the FDA.  When Freedom Industries can escape culpability for this incident by simply declaring bankruptcy, something is horribly wrong.  The management of that company needs to be prosecuted and serve significant jail time.  And not in some country club-like minimum security prison, either!  Perhaps that experience would give them more empathy for the people they plundered ...

But I have to back off my finger-pointing at the radcons (a seemingly contradictory expression of the reality that "conservatives" - largely tea party types and religious fundamentalists - have become radicalized).  They don't bear the sole responsibility here.  Liberals and Democrats have contributed through their own sort of neglect and ineptitude.  Their opposition to the drive to create a mythical "free market capitalism" (which is really welfare for the rich and the creation of a nearly complete immunity for the rich from prosecution for violating regulations) has been mostly ineffective at convincing American voters that unbridled corporate greed is not in their best interest.  Many of the very people who are victims of corporate greed are voting for the radcons, despite what seems obvious to me:  the folks they're electing are victimizing the very voters who elected them!

The model of "free market capitalism" the radcons seem to be looking toward looks a lot more like industry under the Soviets or the Chinese Communists than some mythical ideal from our past.  The illusion that a "free market" is some ideal to which we must return is simply ignoring the history of corporate greed.  Around the beginning of the 20th century, the USA went through a period when it became politically necessary to break the power of the large corporations - known colloquially as "trust busting", championed by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Horrible abuses were rampant in industry, not unlike the situation we face today.  Much of the regulatory activity swept away in recent episodes of deregulation were put in place during the period of trust busting, to prevent the abuses we recently have begun to experience again.  What a surprise!  If you open the door again, the rats will always rush back in.

Incidents like Charleston's tragedy might well be more than just isolated incidents if the "corporations are people" folks have their way.  The Soviets and the Chinese ran/run their industries with virtually no safety regulation, low wages, and without any regard for environmental impacts.  Pretty much the same as USA corporations prior to the 20th century.  Under circumstances like that, where industry can operate solely for short-term profit without regard for their workers and the residents in the surrounding areas, "accidents" like Charleston become the norm.  With their oppressive control over the media, the Soviets and the Chinese could suppress any news leaks about local disasters - as yet, we haven't reached that point in the USA - yet.  

The hardships and uncertainty folks in Charleston, WV, are experiencing could become commonplace if we don't begin to regain control of corporate America.  Those 1%ers have transformed the economy into welfare for the rich by outsourcing their jobs to places with low wage expectations, bilking the public with outrageous Ponzi schemes and mismanagement of markets, pushing through massive deregulation of corporations and cutting the budgets of regulatory agencies, and numerous other abuses against the 99%.  And they're getting away with it, with the apparent approval of many within the electorate.  We seem hell-bent to return to the 19th century. 

I just don't see how an economy that drives the majority of people into poverty or at least reduces disposable income for the middle class can remain a prosperous one.  The greed that drives the corporations is ultimately self-destructive for us all.  If our existing economy continues down the road it's on, what will take its place when it collapses under the top-heavy weight of corporate abuse?  I don't believe those who have been bamboozled into voting for the radcons have any idea what they're supporting.  Somehow, we need to do something about that.

A Sucker Born Every Minute …

In these times, it seems superfluous to present more evidence regarding the old adage (attributed to P.T. Barnum) that there's a sucker born every minute.  Social media are rife with ignorant nonsense.  Television is dominated by shows of monumental vapidity sponsored by products preying on people's narcissistic concern for their self-image.  Gambling casinos hum with activity 24/7.  Politicians convince people to vote for things that clearly are not in the self-interest of those voters.  And so on ...

Nevertheless, I'm moved to provide yet another example: the marketing of long-range forecasts.  Virtually any respectable meteorologist knows that our ability to forecast the weather accurately in a deterministic way decreases with increasing lead time.  For those of my readers who don't know what 'deterministic' means, consider this product:


Note that the high and low temperature forecasts in this National Weather Service (NWS) product are given to within one degree Fahrenheit for each forecast time.  This conveys no information about increasing uncertainty in the accuracy of the temperature forecasts, so this is a 'deterministic' temperature forecast.  There might be various ways to show that uncertainty, but this sort of product simply makes no attempt to do so.  

It should be evident to most people that uncertainty increases with time over the period of the forecast, but nevertheless it seems that many forecast users are uninformed about this.  The product above is not a 'long-range' forecast, of course, being less than a week ahead.  Beyond a week or so into a forecast, the accuracy of weather forecasts is no better than what you would find if you simply forecast the local climatological averages for that date in the future - in technical terms, after about 8-10 days, the forecasts have no skill over a 'climatology' forecast!  A skillful forecast is one that is more accurate than some standard forecast method, such as random guessing, persistence (every day will be just like today), climatology, or whatever standard you wish to choose.  [Accuracy refers to the difference between what is forecast and what is actually observed.  Accuracy and skill are not synonymous!]

The same is true for the sky conditions and sensible weather forecasts in the product above.  However, observe that the weather forecast for "tonight" mentions a "chance" of freezing drizzle.  What does the word "chance" mean to you?  Do you think everyone interprets that word the same way?  This language is at best an attempt to describe uncertainty, but it uses words for which the meaning is unspecified.  The language of uncertainty is probability and a proper forecasts should always contain information about the uncertainty. 

In 2012, AccuWeather began issuing long-range forecasts out to 45 days, well beyond the 8-10 day limit of skillful predictability.  In those forecasts, no uncertainty information is provided, so to the user, the level of precision in the forecasts beyond the predictability limit looks just the same as the forecast for tomorrow, which is at best a deceptive practice, arguably bordering on unethical.

Recently, a study of the accuracy of the long-range forecasts from AccuWeather for selected cities was done.  That study shows what any meteorologist already knew:  AccuWeather forecasts exhibit no positive skill over climatology beyond about 8-10 days (or less) and in most cases show negative skill beyond that of climatology after that time. The important information that the uncertainty increases with time is not an explicit part of their forecast.  For NWS/NOAA forecasts out beyond a week or so, there's a different sort of product suite - see here - that provides a non-deterministic sort of forecast product.

Most users typically don't keep track of what the forecast was even a week ago, to say nothing of the forecast 45 days ago!  They also don't typically subject the forecasts to rigorous verification analysis.  Hence, they naively 'look at' long-range forecasts and perhaps even use them to make personal decisions.  It would be interesting to interview a cross-section of users of those long-range forecasts to ascertain their opinions regarding their value and how they go about dealing with the decline of accuracy with time in the forecasts.  It's hard to imagine how an unskillful product would be of much value to users ...

It seems that many people are at least attempting to use long-range forecasts somehow, and private sector companies provide their clients with what they want.  Unfortunately, such products are not what users need, which is a forecast with uncertainty information included.  When users aren't informed about forecast uncertainty, they have to guess for themselves how much faith to put in those forecasts.  Capitalizing on user ignorance by issuing deterministic long-range forecasts beyond 8-10 days is a shameful practice.  Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware!!