Worst Science Jobs II: Number 17
by Peter Stemmler
In March 2001 in the northeastern U.S., the modern prophets of an angry god were in full herald mode. Wrathful Winter would strike again! They prophesied that many dozens of inches of snow would bury the people, and foretold the locations and times. Oh, what great TV it made! The weathercasters were the darlings of their bosses, as their dire warnings kept the populace glued to the tube.
Until the storm never materialized.
Not all television meteorologists are scientists. Many are journalists making a break for the big seat. And, contends Lee Grenci, a meteorology instructor at Penn State University, they’re not properly trained in the complexities of weather forecasting. Weather is naturally chaotic; forecasting precise snowfall three days out, Grenci says, is “disinformation.”
Alas, those meteorologists who actually know better aren’t allowed to exercise scientific caution. “Weather forecasting in this country is dictated by news directors,” Grenci explains. If a competing station is predicting calamity, viewers are going to switch, so it’s time to dire up your own forecast to keep them. A couple of Grenci’s former students who have attempted to be more responsible about their forecasts have been threatened with sacking. “Weather forecasting,” he sighs, “has become a fast-food science.”