- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

It was coming. The storm of the century. It was going to be bigger than George Clooney's (presumptive) marriage and Tom Cruise's divorce. It had already received twice as much media coverage.

Using advanced Doppler technology, forecasters estimated that this season's big one would dump several feet of snow, or at least tens of inches, on the D.C. area. The salt trucks began to move, and a pre-emptive pileup occurred on Interstate 95.

Then … nothing. Sure, a flake or two hit the ground. Reliable witnesses reported seeing flurries in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Yet miraculously, the storm passed over the nation's capital, leaving behind only drifts of excuses from red-faced weather forecasters.

At the risk of falling into the cliche of merely talking about the weather, this predictable cycle of errant predictions confirms that we, the consumers, need to be careful about acting on weather forecasts.

The most accurate weather information can be found by simply sticking one's nose out the window, but such information usually lacks predictive value. While no one on the editorial staff admitted to making emergency grocery runs (some may have simply dug into their Y2K stocks), many Washingtonians did make schedule changes in anticipation of stormy, snowy weather.

Yet because they attempt to predict the behavior of chaotic systems based on limited information and still somewhat ill-understood phenomena, weather forecasts are, like Hollywood marriages, almost inherently unreliable. Improvements in technology do not dictate the weather, they only increase the probability of correct forecasts about it.

The same could be said for predictions about global warming. If 24-hour forecasts about local conditions are always suspect and often wrong, how much more so are 20-year forecasts about global conditions?

Ultimately, consumers have the responsibility of shopping for the best information whether in the marketplace of ideas or the marketplace of weathermen. It is their job not to be taken in by the occasional media snow job.

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