Why Are Weather Forecasts So Hard For Us To Handle Mentally?
If you’ve noticed, the chances of rain and spotty storms have been with us each day throughout the week and into the 4th of July. When you see these percentages, it only tells a small part of the storm story. Yet on an 8day forecast, that is what we have given the time constraints of television weather. Its those “20%s or 40%s” that don’t sit well with us. Why? We want something definitive. Our human psychology demands it.
We generally hate probabilities in life…especially in weather forecasts. The weather affects all aspects of our lives. We get a bit sensitive about the weather. But for our minds to grasp probabilities with the weather, 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—beginning, middle and an end. We crave “black and white” scenarios. We want to know if it will rain or not. We love a good weather narrative, a story, versus something that is data driven. Science can explain why it will rain. We just don’t like it. We become conflicted and push the science aside and dismiss it. Its how our human nature has developed over the generations; our subconscious psyche at work.
In an effort to preemptively quell this subconscious reaction somewhat, 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. My attempt at explaining the nuances of weather and the atmosphere just reinforces the nebulous elements of the forecast I’m trying to smooth over. Ugh!
Human nature is a powerful force! Our minds don’t easily recognize the probability elements and instead, we favor a story that fits our biases. 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. Was the forecast right? YES. Was it wrong? YES…in the eyes of the view who cancelled an outdoor party due to the prospects of rain.
Here is the bottom line: We find elements of the story that fit our preconceived notions about the subject (in this case the weather here in Ohio) and hold onto them even if data/science says otherwise. So remember the psychology when you hear a weather forecast. The science always works. Its never as straight forward as we’d like it to be.