135: Learn to look up from your weather app: a metaphor
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Do you know what I’ve decided is the perfect entry point to talking to people about the importance of paying attention to what’s actually happening and not just swallowing the narrative?
Years ago, people used old fashioned weather prediction tips—they’d look up, watch the animals, smell the air, or watch the tree leaves in order to try and predict the weather. But nowadays, the vast majority of folks depend on the nightly news or a weather app on their phone to tell them what’s going to happen with the sky today, tomorrow, or next week.
And while there is nothing wrong with having a tool to help keep you informed, it never ceases to amaze me how many people are shocked when that tool is wrong time after time, and yet they still go to it and regard it as the be-all, end-all truth.
I always taught my kids to look at the sky and pay attention to what’s happening, regardless of what the forecaster or the app says. Just the other night my 18 year old son left on a night bike ride but came back about ten minutes later because although the weather app didn’t say there was anything in the area, there had been a lot of lightning and he didn’t like the way things looked. He said if things changed, he’d go out again later. I nodded and told him I was going to bed. For kicks, I checked the weather app before I turned off my light. There was stuff on the radar, but nothing headed for us. I turned off my light and went to sleep.
Twenty minutes later I woke up to hail, no power, and so much rain we couldn’t see across the yard to the barn.
The side note of this story is that when I woke up and went downstairs to check out what was happening, I couldn’t find my oldest son. Woken-from-a-deep-sleep panic set in and I wondered if he’d left on a bike ride after all and got caught in the storm. Silly mom—he wasn’t out on a bike ride, he was outside under the overhang of the house, watching the storm.
Weather forecasting is imperfect, and yet so many people still rely on it to plan their day as though it’s infallible. I’ve been told by my GPS based weather app that I’m standing in the middle of a severe hailstorm when the skies above me are sunny. I’ve been told we’re getting a dusting of snow when I’m standing in 5 inches of slush. And I bet you’ve experienced this, too.
So why do we keep relying on something that doesn’t work?
(And remember, this is a metaphor.)
Why aren’t we, at the very least, taking it with a cup of salt and learning how to look up and make our own weather predictions?
I’ve had people roll their eyes at me and say, “weather forecasting is more technical now. They have more tools. It’s more involved. Sometimes they still make mistakes, it’s still just a prediction, but it’s more accurate than it used to be.”
But I don’t buy it
In fact, sometimes I think the more “involved” weather forecasting becomes, the less helpful it is.
Sounds like something else I know…
And call me crazy, but I also think that as weather forecasting becomes seemingly less accurate, it also becomes more dramatic. When I was a kid and we’d turn on the radar during an active storm warning, you never ever saw purple on the radar. And if you did, you might as well just kiss your stuffed animals and curl up and die because the apocalypse was coming and your house was not going to survive.
But now? Now there is purple on the radar all the time. And that purple doesn’t mean jack. We get all worked up about the big blob that’s coming for us on the radar. Panic! Ahh! Get the dogs! Go to the basement! We’re going to die! It’s coming! It’s like those weather forecasters like to see us get all worked up and scared and afraid and fearful with our eyes glued to see what they’re going to say next…
Gee. Sounds like something else I know…
Learn to look up. Learn to read what’s going on around you. Learn to question. Stay aware. Use logic. Pay attention. Check out what the app or the forecaster has to say if you must, but don’t disengage your eyes or your ears or your brain.
— Amy Dingmann, 4-16-21
Here’s a video I made 9/2020 with very similar thoughts:
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