A constant gripe

Barney Zwartz, in quintessentially Melbourne fashion, wonders: why do we hang on every word of the weather forecast, when it's so often wrong?

How do you know it’s safe to hang out your washing? When the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts 100 per cent chance of rain, as it did in Melbourne one day last week. Sure enough, the laundry was undisturbed. I chat with people walking their dogs at the native reserve at the end of my street, and have found perfect unity at least on one topic – the astounding inaccuracy of the weather forecasters when it comes to rain.

It’s a mystery, given their fine record for temperatures, wind speeds and the like. I once wrote to the BOM about this discrepancy, but got a pro forma answer to a different question. Even their forecasts are absurd, like this one: “High chance of rain, 80%. Most likely in the eastern suburbs (70%), less likely in the north and west (50%).” How does that add up to 80% anywhere?

And yet millions of Australians can’t wait for daily guidance from these charlatans, ears glued to constant weather updates on the radio and television. Fine and clear, the forecasters say, so the newly lockdown-released picnickers swarm the parks – no surer guarantee that the heavens will open and provide soggy sandwiches and heavily diluted tea.

Of course, the forecasters can never please everyone. An anonymous poet summed it up:

The Duke of Rutland urged The Times to pray
For rain: the rain came down the following day.
The pious marvelled; the sceptics murmured: “Fluke!”
And farmers, late with hay, said: “Damn that Duke.”

What is one to do? I favour science-based empirical methods, so the solution is clear. I stick my head out the window for a look before I leave the house. And if Melbourne is infamously blessed with four seasons in one day, at least I know that without bothering the bureau.