Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Let it Not Snow

Well, #Snowmageddon2015 didn't happen - or, more accurately, happened 150 miles east of where it was expected to happen - and a surprising number of people have been threatening and berating weathermen (like this great indie forecaster working in the Hudson Valley, who was actually one of the first to reduce the snowfall forecasts, and who offered a well-humored explanation of yesterday's failure here).

Something happened differently than authorities said it would, and a few of us have gone absolutely nuts. When people act irrationally, it often helps to consider the opposite cause. In this case, I don't think it's disrespect for authorities doing their best with uncertain models and unpredictable circumstances. I think it's a question of over-respect on the part of their critics. People who get their dander up over scientific shortfalls are people who never understood how science works in the first place, and who therefore placed too much confidence in it. The rest of us laugh off this result, or perhaps grumble a bit, but there are those whose worlds are rocked when authorities (political or technical) fail them. As with idealists imploding into cynicism, their bitterness surprises the rest of us.

These are the same guys who brought out pitchforks and torches after the government failed to spot and prevent a dozen scruffy terrorists from taking over planes with box cutters and driving them into buildings. They weren't fellow citizens with a more vehement sense of outrage. They're a different element entirely. They're people who'd assumed authorities are omnipotent (the same misconstrual fueling conspiracy theorists). As a result of their daft pique, we all must endure security theater at airports, where the government makes damn sure that highly visible measures are in place to prevent scruffy terrorists with box cutters from ever flying planes into buildings again.

In this case, it will be that much harder to get certain folks to take future weather emergencies seriously. Most of us will continue heeding forecasts, knowing full well nothing's ever certain. But for a certain element, the paradigm's been blown wide open, and they'll never fully trust again. The problem of course, is that no one ever backs down from "full trust" to a more appropriate level of trust. They back down all the way. Human reaction is always a matter of reciprocal pendulum swings.

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