The rain in Maine is unexplained

For a state with so much weather, it has always struck me as odd that Maine forecasters have such a poor record predicting it. With striking regularity they steer me off in the wrong direction. I have been sent out into downpours while dressed for the beach; into blistering days while bundled to the hilt; and into raging snowstorms based on the promise of clear skies.

A while back, just out of curiosity, I began to tally the forecasters' hits and misses. My crude statistical analysis led me to conclude that they were on the mark about 50 percent of the time. This is not good, especially when one is trying to make the most of an all-too-brief summer. Last month I perched at the radio for a good week, waiting for a report of a clear, warm day, so I could take my 8-year-old son on a canoe trek. Finally, the blessed words: "Tomorrow will be clear, warm, and windless."

Perfect.

We mounted the canoe on the car, took it to our launch point, and paddled along a stream that opened into a mountain lake - all under a bright sun and cloudless sky. The trip took almost exactly one hour. Then the fates - and forecasters - played their cruel trick. Dark gray thunderheads boiled up, a brisk wind turned the lake choppy, and we were forced to paddle home in a drenching downpour. I tried voicing my rendition of "Singin' in the Rain" to lighten the mood, but my son only sat resignedly in the canoe, hunched over, repeating his own refrain, to wit: "This isn't fun, Dad!"

I realize it's necessary to make allowances for the occasional missed target when it comes to predicting the weather. But I grow less tolerant during the summer, when planning for good days is everything and the forecasters can't even get the weather for tomorrow morning straight. And I am totally frustrated when the current day's weather is being broadcast and it has nothing to do with what is happening outside.

This came home to me in spades just the other day when I awoke, turned on the radio, and heard, "Today will be clear and sunny, with temperatures in the 80s." But it was already pouring - literally pouring - outside, with curtains of rain cascading from the roof. What could I do? I shouted at the radio, "For heaven's sake! Why don't you look out the window?"

The great paradox of weather forecasting is that long-range predictions seem to be more accurate than short-term ones. Global temperatures have been rising over the years, snowfall in the Northeast has decreased, etc. But I still reserve the right to be dutifully miffed when my planned day hike - based on supposedly good weather intelligence - is preempted by the tail end of a hurricane that was spawned somewhere between Cuba and Venezuela.

I mean, couldn't they have foreseen that?

In moments of greater composure, I realize I should be thankful to live where I do. Here in Maine, the weather may be unpredictable and unreliable, but it is, by and large, survivable. We don't have to contend with the truly threatening extremes experienced in other parts of the country. For example, we haven't borne the full brunt of a hurricane in more than 40 years. Tornadoes are all but unknown.

Even electrical storms are few and far between. (A friend of mine moved here from Texas for this very reason.)

I am not totally lacking in compassion for our TV weather people. After all - despite their claims - they are not all meteorologists. They are personalities who like talking about the weather, as do we all. As such, they are not immune to the need for drama in the telling of the weather story. Who doesn't like to relate how he was caught in a snowstorm where "I couldn't see my hand in front of my face"?

I think - no, I know - that weather forecasters are seduced by the same need we all harbor to make our stories interesting.

It happened like this: A few years back, during a period of very unsettled summer weather, all the forecasters seemed to be in sync about an impending deluge.

But one of them couldn't help kicking the ball above the goal with this comment: "It will be a rainfall of biblical proportions." Biblical!

Well, the rain came all right, but Noah had no need to take note. It was a soaker, but nothing out of the ordinary, and it was over in 15 minutes. I was furious. Not because I had wanted to see a flood, but rather because the forecaster had me running around like a fool, battening down hatches that hadn't needed battening.

This time I didn't shout at the radio. Instead, I called the radio station directly. When they answered, I had one piece of advice: "Read your Bible!"

I don't know if it changed anything, but I felt better for having offered the suggestion.

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