March 23

World Meteorological Day


When the weatherman is crying on live television…

Meteorologist Gilbert Bowman had really screwed up the snow storm earlier in the week.  An unseasonable possibility, to be sure, but one he predicted with 90% certainty.  Storms from the west and east would combine over the state, the rain/snow line would stay firmly to the south, and the combined storm would pass over the Atlantic bringing in even more moisture, the storm holding firm over the tri-state viewing area as accumulation continued.  “Prepare yourself for a major weather event,” Bowman insisted.  “Three feet, possibly more.”

The stores had already sent their snow shovels back to the distributor, returned large bags of sidewalk salt to the warehouse.  People in your state always went wild at the slightest hint of snow, and Bowman’s prediction sent them into a full-fledged frenzy.  They fought over jugs of milk and water, over flashlights and batteries, pet food and toilet paper.  They prepared themselves as best they could, then went home and waited.  Bowman had predicted the Great Storm of ’12, after all — and he was even more certain this time.

All the schools were closed.  All government offices, all local businesses.  Everyone was instructed to stay off the roads, unless absolutely necessary.

They waited.  And waited.

Some rain.  A few flurries, but not enough to stick.

Maybe it would change over soon.  A single foot of snow, instead of three or four.

Nope.  Just an average, wet day in March.  The kids were happy to miss school, and many adults enjoyed their unscheduled vacation from work.  But people couldn’t help but be a bit angry, too, after getting all excited over nothing.

“Look at him,” your wife Marian says the next day, calling you into the room.  You thought she wasn’t going to watch Bowman’s channel anymore, but apparently she’d forgotten to change the channel after Wheel. “They must have fired him.”

You step into the den, lower yourself into your leather recliner.  The guy onscreen is crying like a baby.  “Jeez, Bowman, man up,”  you say. They’ve left the camera on him.  He’s at the anchor desk, instead of standing in front of his map screens.  It’s the top of the news hour, instead of the midpoint when they air the regular weather segment.

“Well, he owes us an apology doesn’t he?” Marian says from the couch.

“I hope they did fire him,” you say.  “I screw up in my job, there’s consequences.  Weather folks get things wrong, they just shrug and say they did their best.”

Marina clicks the volume button higher, which makes the guy’s sobs play louder in the room.  Bowman drops his head, takes a shuddery breath to compose himself.  When he straightens up, his eyes are red.  But at least he’s stopped that blubbering.

“As many of you know,” Bowman begins with a shaky voice, “I predicted a significant storm for our region.  As some of you prepared for that storm, there was apparently a serious altercation at the Dairy Mart in King’s County.  Seven people died in a fight over the last cartons of milk, and for any part my forecast played in that tragedy, I am truly sorry.”

A clip plays on the screen — a crowd of protestors from earlier in the day.  One of the hand-printed signs demands, “BANISH BOWMAN.”

The meteorologist speaks over the pre-recorded clip.  “I checked over the various computer prediction models I consulted, including the Canadian, NWS, and European models, combined with my own data.  After careful review…”

The clip ended, and the program cut back to a close-up of Bowman’s face.  “I was not wrong.”

Too much.  “He’s doubling down,” you say.

Marian leans forward, studying the face on the TV screen.  “I think he might be losing his mind.”  A hint of sympathy creeps into her voice.

“There was, however, a problem with the data,” Bowman admits.  His usual after-the-fact corrective, you’re ready to point out, but Marian waves her hand at you — a signal to stay quiet.

The meteorologist trembles again, tears start to well up in his eyes.  “I’m sorry to have to tell you… Another factor interfered with the weather-prediction modules.  A factor much more serious, much bigger, than the storm I outlined in my forecast.”

Bowman reaches beneath the desk, pulls up his own hand-made sign.  It is an amateurish drawing:  circles and curved lines, rocks drawn in black, blue scribbled water, red-marker peaks of fire.  All of it.  All of it raining down.

“I’m no artist,” he says, stating the obvious.  “I didn’t do so well with perspective.  With scale.”  He pulls a fresh marker from his shirt pocket, uncaps it. “This might help.”  He draws a small “x” at the intersection of the chaos.  “We’re here.  We’re right here.”