I remember it because I was extremely unhappy with the rain. The rain canceled the scheduled baseball game at Strickland Park in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Never heard of it? Can’t blame you, as most baseball games for 9 and 10 year olds rarely get any press. While we were unable to play the game, an F3 tornado moved through town about an hour after our game, cementing a fascination with severe weather that remains to today. Had I been older, I may have been one of the American Legion team which took shelter in the dugout at their ballpark at Couch Park. (http://stillwaterweather.com/stwfriday13thtornado.html)
From that day forward, I have been fascinated by weather.. Since I also had a dream to play professional baseball, I was able to combine the two. After all, you can’t play if it going to rain. So, why not learn more about the patterns about when it will rain? While the pro scouts hopefully saw the dream, they also saw the (lack of) talent. Thus, my professional career is in meteorology and not as a catcher with the Texas Rangers.
Why bring all of this up? I’ve also been amazed at the similarities between weather forecasting and the game of baseball. Leo Durocher was quoted as saying “Baseball is like church. Many attend, but few understand.” Substitute the word weather for baseball, and the quote remains just as profound.
I remember our tornado delayed makeup game a week or so later. For whatever reason, I was playing right field that day. No big deal, except I wanted to be Johnny Bench, and if I wasn’t catching, I didn’t pay attention. The ball got hit my way, and as the runner went from first to third, I had no idea what to do with the ball. Throw it? Where? Hold it? That doesn’t seem right. All of these things were going through my mind as the game induced panic set in, and the runner scored.
If you have ever seen, or been in, a little league game, you know what happened. The player is perplexed and doesn’t know what to do, and the crowd is yelling all sorts of advice, and not all of it was good. I remember someone yelling “throw it.” (My thoughts were: “Great, throw it where? Tim isn’t at first base, throwing it to second doesn’t seem right, I can’t throw it all the way home.”) Our team was in the third base dugout, so I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. I wanted to hear Dad’s advice, but when I could finally pick out his voice, it got lost in the sea of noise. Unfortunately, I also remember the coaches “advice” when the inning was over. When the ball is hit to you, just throw it to second base, “it’s just that easy.”
The more I think about baseball and weather, the more I am convinced that we meteorologists are either the coaches or the crowd, while the people who need to make quick decisions based on weather are the ballplayers. In baseball, the coach or managers have a strategy, but it comes down to the players to make decisions which control the game. Meteorologists have a strategy with the expected weather and have the most control on the message about how people should perform if they are affected by the weather. Ball players at a high level know how to remove the crowd noise from their performance. Players that are not experienced, look for any clue to know what to do, whether that be from a coach, or from Mom and Dad in the crowd.
Allow me to take the analogy one step farther: some meteorologists are the coach, some are the crowd. The players are the various public: some know exactly what to do, and some are looking elsewhere for actionable advice once in a warning and/or perceive themselves to be in danger from the weather. Meteorologists are providing the advice and the information, yet the players control whether or not they take protective action. Most people in my area of North Texas know what to do when severe weather hits in theory, but are trying to listen to all of the crowd noise: some telling them to take cover, some telling information that just doesn’t make sense to them.
When I watch a game, I am pretty quick to notice when the players or managers do something “wrong.” I have been told by Mrs. Fox that there have been occasions when I have loudly yelled advice to the TV, in the hopes the message would somehow get through. This is human nature, to a point. From a distance, the game is pretty simple. You know what to do, you know what should be done, but you are not actually in the game. It looks so easy.
While we are at it, I’ll admit, I have seen radar signatures from various parts of the country and wondered “why is there no warning on (storm x).” I’d argue that most of us do this, not only at sporting events, but while watching along with weather. I know I am watching the radar closely when a supercell or tropical system is moving close to a city. The question then becomes when do we add our voice to the crowd?
Each of us must make the decision to add to the conversation either during the weather event, after the weather event, or to keep quiet. From the crowd, giving advice is easy. As a player, especially one in a potentially life or death situation (a far cry from a young right fielder not knowing where to throw a baseball), clear, actionable advice is needed. As the weather community, what are we yelling at the players? Is it clear information about what the threats are? Is it crowd noise that will get lost? Is it better to be technically correct in what we say, or is it better that the players get the information they need to protect their life?
With weather, meteorologists have the information and the advice for the public to play the “game.” The game is being played by the various publics, sometimes by people who have no idea that they are the players. Not convinced the weather community is the crowd and not the player? Check out a twitter feed the next time your local weather forecast office issues a tornado warning. (As I’m writing this, there are at least 3 different tweets about tropical development in the Gulf in 384 hours, complete with pictures of the model output. This was not the motivation of this post, however.) What about the social media posts that say “(community x) take cover!” Take cover? Where? At this point, several studies suggest that the human response is to seek additional information, especially those from trusted sources: What does my family say? Did the TV met just say my city? Is that video now, or earlier today? All I hear now is noise.
In my opinion at least, this is us yelling advice to an outfielder who doesn’t know what to do with the ball. In a baseball game, the run scores. In life, the stakes are much higher.
Nobody in the weather enterprise has ever purposely been wrong with a forecast. Nobody. At the same time, nobody in the weather enterprise has had a sinister motive in questioning decision making. Everyone who makes a forecast is doing so to the best of their ability. Every warning is issued with good intentions as well. Similarly, everyone who is adding their voice to the conversation is doing so intending to help. I’m convinced that all of us who provide weather information is doing so to help someone, somewhere to make a good decision. What would happen if the entire crowd yelled to the outfielder “throw it to second base” What everyone would want to happen, would most likely happen.
Meteorologists will have opinions, and some opinions will vary. During an event, does it help someone make an effective decision, or does the opinion become noise? How does it look to someone that is in a tornado warning, when their social media feed is mixed with messages of “take cover now”…”big tornado possible’…and/or “I can’t believe they warned on this storm #hype”?
We can use the opinions to make it easier for someone to make a decision, or we can use the opinions to make it more difficult. If it is as easy as it looks: why are we all not on the same page? This article won’t, and isn’t intended to, solve anything. Hopefully, we can discuss and find ways to help the players improve their game. Our collective voice should be the strongest during times when folks must make decisions quickly based on weather information.