Thursday, March 07, 2013

Behavorial Meteorology: Why Can't We Handle Forecasts

We generally hate probabilities in life...especially in weather forecasts. For our minds to grasp probabilities, we need to be able to handle multiple possible outcomes at once. Weather has many, many outcomes over a large area due to the changing initial conditions. Typically, our brains work much better with a theme that is linear. That is with a beginning, middle and an end. In other words, we want to know if it will rain or not. We crave "black and white" scenarios. We love a good narrative, a story, versus something that is data driven.

I try to explain the multiple variables that go into a forecast for the many locations around the viewing area which will be affected. For most, it goes in one ear and out the other.  Our minds don't easily recognize the probability elements and instead, we favor a story that fits our biases. If someone doesn't like the forecaster, they have less of a chance of being believed. If it doesn't rain over their house when the probability is 90% chance of rain, the forecaster is wrong. Even if the rest of the area was hit with a good downpour.  We find elements of the story that fit our preconceived notions about the subject and hold onto them even if data says otherwise. Remember the psychology when you hear a weather forecast. Its never as straight forward as we'd like it to be.

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