Phil’s track record is not perfect. “On average, Phil has gotten it right 40% of the time over the past 10 years,” according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages “one of the largest archives of atmospheric, coastal, geophysical, and oceanic research in the world.”
The three-month temperature outlook for February through April 2023 calls for above normal temperatures across the eastern and southern US and below normal temperatures for the northwestern US, according to the Climate Prediction Center…
Despite his mixed record when it comes to actually forecasting the weather, there’s no doubt Phil’s fans still hold him in high regard.
After all, his full title is Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.
In other words, Phil is worse than a coin flip in predicting the coming weather. This is not good; any expert would hopefully be better than that.
However, there is some evidence that many expert predictions about the future are not great. How well can people predict the future performance of the stock market or natural disasters or geopolitical change? Not so well. And it is not just that it is difficult to predict the future; we think we can predict the future so it can be even more damaging when projections are wrong.
I suspect very few people care if Punxsutawney Phil is right or wrong. They like the tradition, the ritual, a festive gathering in the middle of winter. Still, Phil offers a window into our own abilities and confidence about knowing the future…and it is a cloudy window at best.
In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport.
According to Weber, by the early 1900s the practice of capitalism in the United States was taking on “the character of sport.”
Weather betting emerged and gained popularity during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit and sports shut down in March, most people will remember the NCAA tournament was canceled and within a day virtually everything shut down. There was nothing to bet on. The sports world naturally shut down and sports books were looking for something to attract customers. One of the popular things that emerged was betting on Russian table tennis and another was betting on the weather,” says Holden…
“There will be a proposition like, ‘Will there be rain on this day?’ and then individuals can select yes or no. Much like in over under betting for sports, the bookmaker sets a line where the total points can either go over or under and the better selects which will occur.”
Betting laws are strict in the U.S. and at the moment, weather betting is not regulated. However, it is allowed in places like Canada where sportsbooks are taking bets on the weather.
Some might say that betting on the weather is just another opportunity for gamblers to try to make money and for those in the gambling industry to make money. Following the quote from Weber above, perhaps it is just another outworking of capitalism in the United States. Why not make it like a sport? Why not try to generate money off the weather?
Let’s say winters in the future in the Chicago region turn out to be not as cold, do not involve as much snow, and/or include more warm days. In just the last month, we have experienced wind chills of roughly -30 degrees below zero and 50 degree days. The Chicago region has had moments of winter but not a full month of winter. Would Chicago residents like a long-term shift away from winter?
On one hand, many Chicago area residents complain about the winter. They make clear their opinions about the cold, snow, potholes, salt, longer traffic times, winter gear, heating bills, and more. At least a few vacation in warmer climates during the winter and some move to warmer climates.
On the other hand, it is hard to imagine the Chicagoland experience as it is known now without winter. What about the social capital created by griping together? The possibility of a white Christmas? The pride about shoveling and still doing life when talking to people in parts of the country where a light amount of snow shuts everything down? Invigorating winter outdoor activities? Supposed “Bears weather”? Jokes about the two seasons of winter and construction? And so on.
Perhaps new weather patterns would lead to a reconfigured understanding of what winter is. People can adapt to change over time. They can find different ways to bond and different experiences or group identities that bring them together. The long-told tales of the Blizzard of 1967 or Snowmageddon 2011 will fade further into the archives. Chicago could still have a winter that is different than the South or West even if it s different than what it is in the past.
“Not one police (officer) came in the 16 hours we were stuck,” she said. “No one came. It was just shocking. Being in the most advanced country in the world, no one knew how to even clear one lane for all of us to get out of that mess?”
I have seen some version of this quote in numerous contexts in recent months. It could reference:
-US military and political involvement in Afghanistan
-responding to natural disasters
-passing basic legislation
The expectation is that the United States is highly advanced or the most advanced country in the world. The country boasts a history of innovation and pragmatism, a powerful military, and an influential set of ideals. If all of this is true, why then can the United States not address such basic issues (in the eyes of the questioner)?
Implicit in this question is whether the United States exists amid a massive contradiction. For all of those markers of success, perhaps the country is not as advanced as its people think. Perhaps there are difficult issues to solve, complex concerns that we do not know how to or do not have the will to address.
Take the above example of unexpected bad weather. Large highway backups during snowstorms are not unknown in the United States. They occur even in areas more accustomed to cold and snow. Sure, local responses can differ. But, these systems are complex with natural forces, hundreds of autonomous drivers, governments and private actors responding, and the relatively long distances Americans are used to traveling on a daily basis.
All of the issues mentioned above as something an advanced country should be able to address are not simple. The expectation that a country should always easily get it right might be unrealistic. Even so, if a large number of people think the issue should be easily solvable, this quickly becomes a problem when it is not.
New York had its first climate-related wake-up call nine years ago, when Hurricane Sandy brought a storm surge that flooded low-lying areas and, yes, subway stations. Since then, the city has spent almost $20 million on climate-proofing the city, according to the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency. But some of that funding went to solving a different problem than the one presented by Ida: water coming from the rivers. This week, all the wet stuff fell from the sky, threatening even areas above sea level…
Now, after years of updates, 60 percent of New York City has a combined sewer system, which uses a single pipe to carry both wastewater and stormwater to treatment plants. During heavy rainstorms, the system can get quickly overwhelmed. The detritus of city living—trash, plants, general gunk—clogs drains, further gumming up the works. “So if you get a really big kahuna like this, I don’t think it really has a shot at draining that out fast enough to avoid flooding,” says Farnham.
The city has worked to separate those combined sewer systems and to clear clogged drains, especially when storms threaten. It has raised and in some cases eliminated subway grates, which were built to allow fresh air to flow down to dank underground spaces but which now look like holes to let more water in. In some places, the MTA constructed flood-proof doors, which can close when the water gets too close.
More generally, cities like New York can create more green infrastructure to help with their water problems—basically, less pavement and more dirt. You might, for instance, create roadside green spaces where water can percolate before moving into stormwater drains, removing trash and pollution in the process. Los Angeles has been doing this to catch rainwater. “This is a long-term thing,” says Horodniceanu. Retrofitting cities to deal with what’s coming, and what’s already come, will take gobs of one of the scarcest resources of all: much more funding.
As cities expand and change, fixing the infrastructure already there to incorporate new technologies and grow the capacity is a difficult task. How disruptive will the efforts be? How much will it cost? It could be much easier in the long run to anticipate these issues way ahead of time and proactively make changes rather than only act after a major issue is exposed.
Water is particularly destructive as much of modern life depends on the fact that water will be excluded from the system. Residences, businesses, mass transit, electronics must be dry to function well. If there is an overwhelming storm or a breach of the water defenses, water can quickly wreak havoc both in the short-term and long-term. Cities require a lot of things to go right to properly go about their business but water can quickly disrupt this operation.
The recent events in New York City and New Orleans also remind me of the planning that can go into highways and parking lots: they can be constructed with peak use in mind. The parking lot needs to be large enough to handle the biggest crowds, hence the shopping mall parking lots that can handle Thanksgiving weekend shopping but are not fully used throughout the rest of the year. Or, the highway that needs more and more lanes to handle rush hour traffic while there are many hours when that capacity is not needed. Sewers need to handle really big storms or events. But, in each case, can the largest need be forecast correctly? Adding lanes to roads can increase the traffic. Right-sizing parking lots can be tricky. And planning for the rare storm is hard, particularly if conditions are changing. Similarly, people will not be happy in these cases if there is not enough capacity and there will be calls to fix the problem afterward.
By a wide margin, three skyscrapers in the East stood out for repeated lightning strikes between the years 2015 and 2020. At 1,776 feet tall, the tallest building in the U.S., One World Trade Center in New York City, was struck 189 times between 2015 and 2020, but it wasn’t the most frequently hit building in the nation…
Yet the Big Apple isn’t the U.S. city with the most frequently struck building. That distinction goes to the Willis Tower in Chicago, which ranks third in the U.S. for height, towering at 1,451 feet above the Windy City. That skyscraper was hit with 250 lightning strikes between 2015 and 2020, making it Thor’s favorite target, so to speak.
Why Willis and not World Trade? Lightning strikes vary based on building height, material, and suppression systems. Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist for Vaisala, told AccuWeather that location may be to blame as well.
“Chicago gets more lightning in an average year than New York City,” Vagasky said. “So when you stick a tall building in a place with a higher lightning density, it’s more likely to be struck than a tall building in a place with a lower lightning density. Willis Tower is only slightly shorter than One World Trade, by about 35 feet.”
This is a timely write-up given the number of storms the Chicago area has experienced in the last week or so. With summer heat and humidity in a humid continental climate, big dark clouds and rain have swept over the Chicago region.
The pictures that capture lightning striking the Willis Tower highlight the height of the building above the rest of the (impressive) Chicago skyline. Additionally, they also show the resilience of the structures – explained elsewhere in the article as large Faraday cages – in the midst of a natural phenomena that can be quite destructive.
We have had multiple days recently where there is a threat of rain all day. The hourly forecast from yesterday was not unusual:
One of my first thoughts in seeing such a forecast is to say that there is a 50/50 chance of rain. Flip a coin. With this in mind, I would not necessarily stay inside but I would be prepared when going outside.
The idea of a meteorologist flipping a coin when predicting rain is tempting. This could lead to thinking that the meteorologists do not really know so they are just guessing.
However, this is not exactly how this information works. If I look at the hourly forecast and see 0% chance of rain or even anything under 20-30%, I am not going to worry about rain. The probability is low. In contrast, if I see 70% and above I might alter my behavior as the probability is high.
The 50/50 information is still very useful even if it leaves a reader unsure if there will be rain or not. It is not conclusive information but it is not no information or just a guess. With rain at 50%, bring an umbrella, have a coat, or do not stay too far away from shelter but do not just stay inside.
Finding good and well-presented weather forecasts can be difficult. What provider supplies accurate information? Use a widget, app, or website? And who puts it together best on the screen? I have settled on Weather Underground because they present data in this format when you look at the ten day forecast:
This is a lot of information in one graphic. Here is what I think it does well:
The top still provides the basic information many people might seek: conditions and high and low temperatures. A quick scan of the top quickly reveals all of this information.
The amount of information available each day is helpfully shown in four sets of graphs below the header information. I do not just get a high and low temperature; I can see this over an hourly chart (no need to click on hourly information). I do not just get a notice about precipitation; I can see when rain or snow will fall. I do not just get a summary of wind speed; I can see if that wind speed is consistent, when it is rising or falling, and the direction.
Connected to #2, it is easy to see patterns across days. Will that rain continue into the next day? Is the temperature spike or drop going to last? The longitudinal predictions are easy to see and I can see more details than just the summary info at the top.
Also connected to #2, I can see how these four different paths of data line up with each other at the same days and times.
In sum, I think Weather Underground does a great job of showing a lot of information in an easy-to-decipher format. This may be too much information for many people, especially if you want quick information for now or the next few hours. But, if you want to think about the next few days and upcoming patterns, this one graphic offers a lot.
The continued onslaught of heavy, back-straining snow was hard enough to tackle. When a deep freeze solidified it, many people surrendered their shovels in defeat.
The result left sidewalks covered with snowdrifts in neighborhoods and along busy streets. Some pedestrians could be seen walking on busy roads rather than wading through sidewalk snow, a risky strategy at best…
Across the suburbs, “there’s no uniform code” for sidewalk snow removal, Czerwinski explained. “Some communities have an ordinance, which sets in place whose responsibility it is, and it’s usually the property owner, and it’s a requirement. Other municipalities only encourage residents to shovel snow. Some municipalities say nothing.
“It’s not the norm in the metro region, but some cities such as Highland Park do plow sidewalks, taking a tiered approach. The city plows 32 miles of sidewalks near schools, Metra stations, public buildings and shopping districts — no matter how much snow falls, according to Highland Park’s website.
Given the unique snowfall in the last month or so in the Chicago area, there were several keys to keeping sidewalks and driveways clear:
-Keep up with the various snowfalls. If you let multiple snows happen or do not clear the snow completely each time, it piles up, melts in layers and then freezes, and takes longer to clear.
-Use a shovel with a steel edge. This helps scrape the surface clear rather than just gliding over the top.
-Snowblowers cut down on the physical effort needed but they do not always get to the bottom of the snow. They instead can leave an inch or two at the bottom that becomes tramped down and stays on the surface longer.
More broadly, I wonder if the sociologists who study collective efficacy would see snow removal as a reliable marker. Do people go out of their way to help each other? Is the block or community more important than just clearing individual driveways and sidewalks? The Chicago system of “dibs” where people physically mark off their cleared parking spaces for their own use is interesting to consider in this light. But, so might be the suburbanites who leave their own property immaculate but nearby paths are not cleared. In this case, does the snow clearing become more of a status symbol like a dandelion-free lawn or yard free of leaves rather than an interest in public welfare?
(With all the snow that fell and is now melting, it is also time to consider drainage issues present in many suburban areas. Where can all the water go?)
With cold and snow in much of the United States, a car dependent society runs into more difficulties driving. What it does it take to learn how to drive in the snow? Practice and caution. Let me explain.
As a newer driver, I had opportunities to gain valuable practice in driving in snow and bad conditions. I remember one time driving home from work on a school night at about 8 PM after several hours of snowfall. The road was completely covered but the path of the road was discernible amid trees and other markers. Hardly anyone else was out. I made it home by driving slowly.
Around the same time and working at the same place, I found myself leaving for work at 6:30 AM one winter morning. I did not give the car much time to heat up so when I pulled out of our subdivision on to the main road, the rising sun hit my not-clear windshield and made it impossible to see out the front. I stopped, rolled down my window, and slowly drove forward a short distance until I could pull over, let the car warm up, and have a completely clear windshield.
These were potentially risky situations. They were also learning experiences. Pair these experiences – and numerous others – with a few clear rules for driving in snow and icy conditions. First, do not follow anyone closely. Give yourself more space between vehicles. Second, brake slowly in case you start slipping. This means you need to start slowing down earlier. Third, adjust your speed for conditions. Watch how other vehicles are doing and how clear the roadway is.
Wintry conditions are not always possible to handle but are often manageable with practice and caution. These guidelines are less helpful if drivers have fewer opportunities to drive in such conditions. And even following these guidelines is no guarantee; a driver cannot control the actions of other drivers and surprises can arise (such as unseen ice). Even as we ask new drivers to practice certain maneuvers and skills, perhaps we should add snow and ice experience to that mix. Or, maybe it should be a bonus certification required for some parts of the country and recommended elsewhere.