It was opening day for the Detroit Tigers. I had decided to take my bike to school since I could get home faster than I could by taking the city bus. I wanted to absorb as much of announcer Harry Heilman’s play-by-play as I could.
But about half way home, it started to snow. In about fifteen minutes, I was soaking wet and very cold. The game had been called, now a minor consideration.
No one had forecast a mini-blizzard, either the night before or that morning. Did I blame the weather forecasters? I hadn’t counted on them much. They were usually fairly accurate a day or two in advance, although a little short on specifics. The technology and the scientific prowess were not there yet.
But their intent was never in question. The coin of the weather forecaster realm was – and is -- their professional integrity – their honesty and accuracy. And I trusted that they would live up to that code to the limits of their knowledge.
And those limits have changed dramatically. About 25 years after my blizzard event, I heard Mike Hoffman, the venerable meteorologist on WNDU, give an engaging talk on the weather. He said that his profession could forecast weather for 3 days with considerable accuracy, and 5 days with reasonable assurance. And 7 days? Well, that would involve some serious guesswork. Plan on carrying an umbrella just in case.
And how far has meteorology advanced in the last 20 years, with the introduction of second generation Doppler radar and satellites, multiplied in number, and with most developed nations with their own sophisticated technology ready to share their projections with our weather and climate experts?
Today WNDU and the other television stations give 7 day forecasts routinely, and 10 day, even 16 day forecasts occasionally.
Weather forecasts on local television spot incoming storms with specifics about wind, precipitation, lightning, informing us of the number of minutes when severe weather will strike!
And what has that meant to the general public? Well a few weeks ago I was planning what to wear to a football game about a week away. So I turned on my smartphone and opened the Weatherbug app, pulled up the East Lansing screen and found the ten day forecast, which gave me the expected temperature, chance of precipitation, and chances of cloudiness: 64 degrees, partly cloudy, winds at 7 miles per hour. And the hourly forecast broke It out hour by hour.
When the game was about to begin, the stadium announcer gave us the weather specifics.: 64 degrees, wind 7 mph, partly cloudy, exactly what was predicted by Weatherbug over a week earlier.
And consider the experiences Texas and Florida residents had with Harvey and Irma. The climatologists predicted the exact path of the hurricanes, including a northerly turn, the times when the winds would strike, the projected degree of flooding, and specific times when storm surges would hit.
They were amazingly on target. The net impact of their efforts was that fewer than a hundred people died, instead of thousands. Were we right to trust them? You bet. As with meteorologists, professional integrity is the coin of the climatologists’ realm. They are looking out for our best interests.
Those meteorologists, climatologists, and astrophysicists are now leading the effort to warn us about climate change. There is some strong pushback over the growing evidence that we face extremely dire consequences if we do not join the experts from all the other nations to do something to stem the tide of global warming.
Our weather and climate experts have a long and distinguished track record advancing our understanding based on policy neutral research. If they are wrong, but we choose to switch to renewable energy resources, not much is lost or gained, except our environment will be cleaner and energy will be cheaper.
But if the weather and climate experts are right, as they have been for the past 80 years, but we choose to do nothing, we will, in another 25 years, leave a very messy, much less livable planet for future American generations.