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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

During discussions of hurricane tracks, forecasts and cones of uncertainty, I’ve heard mention of how the meteorologists discussing these forecasts “always” get it wrong or make mistakes. While I can understand why people feel this way, such comments detract from the important work that meteorologists do.

Once a storm hits land, meteorologists take on an important role: around-the-clock informer. Local networks may suspend regular programming in favor of constant weather coverage. If this happens, meteorologists must stay upall hours tracking the storm and its associated data, and then must relay that information to anxious audiences. Sometimes this difficult process is laid bare before viewers: in my home of the Tampa Bay Area, meteorologist Denis Philips for WFTS-TV (ABC Action News) became a local celebrity in 2004 after he ditched his suit and tie and wore suspenders for 36 hours straight during his coverage of Hurricane Charley. On top of this responsibility to the public, audiences now demand more hurricane coverage even before a storm hits, and social media and the Internet allow anyone to make their complaints publicly known if forecasts turn out to be off. Unfortunately, meteorology has not yet reached the point where it is an exact science. In meteorology, as with other sciences, the goal is to get as close to the truth as possible, and if we receive information that contradicts our predictions, we aim to revise them accordingly. 

Still, this variability doesn’t stop some people from jumping on meteorologists’ perceived mistakes and pointing out the shifting nature of their forecasts. Hurricane Dorian was initially forecast as a massive hurricane that could hit anywhere in Florida, but it missed Florida entirely and will make landfall in the Carolinas instead. As normally happens under such circumstances, some Floridians are grouching that forecasters made a big deal over nothing, causing people to panic over a storm that didn’t have a devastating effect on the state. However, meteorologists can only work with what they have. With events such as hurricanes, it never hurts to be prepared for the worst possible outcome. 

You may become frustrated if the weather doesn’t go exactly as the person on TV told you, but there’s no reason to blame them. Meteorologists are doing the best they can with the technology they have, and if anything, we should be thankful for how far the field has come and for the great strides that have been made in weather forecasting. That’s not to say the weather person’s word is gospel either; since no one can say with certainty what the weather holds, you should be ready for anything to happen. From bringing an umbrella for a light rain shower to boarding up the windows for the strongest hurricanes, it never hurts to be prepared.

Jason Zappulla is a UF history senior.

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