by William Hooke, Director, AMS Policy Program. Excerpted from a post on the AMS project, Living on the Real World.
Google the expression “Weather-Ready Nation” and you’ll see a rich set of offerings. That’s because the National Weather Service is using this label to describe a comprehensive initiative to make America safer in the face of weather hazards. Recall that America has what is arguably the most hazardous weather on the planet – as many winter storms as Canada, China, or Russia; as many hurricanes as southeast Asia, Japan, etc.; and a virtual lock on the world’s store of tornadoes. Nine separate weather disasters each totaling over a billion dollars in losses this year alone. So a Weather-Ready Nation? No trivial ambition.
But weather doesn’t have to be severe to be high-stakes.
The latest example? Yesterday’s decision by Major League Baseball to postpone the sixth (and possibly deciding) game of the World Series, originally scheduled for last night in St. Louis, until tonight.
Baseball games – even World Series games – have been called on account of rain before. What makes last night’s call unusual was that it was made several hours before game time, while the field was still dry – based on a forecast, rather than an unplayable fieldper se.
The sports press has been full of this story. Want a sample? You can find St. Louis coverage here and national coverage here. Discussion of the possible consequences, and the range of implications, has been extensive. Here’s a sample.
Some saw the decision to postpone this way: as diverting a potential disaster for Fox, the network carrying the game. A rain delay, and a game which might possibly decide the Series (the Texas Rangers are ahead of the Cardinals 3-2 in games) being concluded late, with trophies awarded only in the wee hours of the morning, after viewers had gone to bed, would not be Fox’s preferred outcome. Others noted that the one day delay expands the pitching options available to both managers; their starters have all gotten an additional day’s rest. Cardinals have had one more day to brood about the mis-communication between dugout and bullpen that hurt their chances in Game 5. The Texas Rangers, undoubtedly eager to wrap things up, have had to pace their hotel rooms an extra day.
It’ll be difficult to assess the impact of the decision; the World Series is not part of a controlled experiment. [We didn’t get to clone the teams and explore alternative universes, one in which they tried to play the game last night, and another when they played this evening.] But this Series has been so close that a one-day delay may well be seen to matter in hindsight.
And the funds at stake are substantial. The difference to individual players on the winning and losing teams amounts to something like $100,000 apiece. Team revenues for the Series also vary. But the real stakes become apparent the following year. The winners can look forward to increased season ticket sales, higher advertising revenues, a larger fan base and other economic plus-ups.
What’s striking in all this press coverage? No negativity about the NWS role. In fact, here’s a quote attributed to MLB executive vice president Joe Torre: “It really wasn’t difficult because every single weather report that we’ve had for about three days has predicted rain during the game,” he said on MLB Network, adding that a good forecast for the next two days helped influence the move. “If we’re not right (with the early postponement), we wanted to make sure we were doing it on the safety side,” he said. “That’s why we called it so early.”
This takes us back to all that discussion over the summer about the importance of NOAA’s polar orbiting satellites to the day-to-day consistency in forecasts of approaching weather for decision-making. [You can find material from this blog here.] Note that baseball executives made the call based not just on the forecast for last night’s weather, but the outlook for St. Louis tonight and tomorrow night, in case a Game 7 is required.
This particular forecast was relatively visible nationally, but the fact is that our country uses National Weather Service forecasts to place multi-million-dollar bets every day. The smart money doesn’t wait for the weather to change. They’re acting on the forecasts of that change. Utilities forecast energy demand, not just for the country as a whole but region by region and metropolis by metropolis. Airlines are cancelling and rerouting flights based on weather predictions. Water resource managers are looking ahead to demands and stresses on their watersheds. Agribusiness is constantly adjusting its decisions on when, what and where to plant, the application of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, and how to hedge against sudden changes in international market supply and demand. The lists and the stakes are growing. The Nation grows more weather-ready by the day.