‘The weatherman is not a moron’ (5X8 – 4/23/13)

1) RIDING A HOT STREAK

They got it right. Again. Drat!

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It’s no fun by now to look out the window first thing in the morning and see that another hunk of February has presented itself, of course. But something different went on this winter, which presumably has spit at us for the last time: Meteorologists seem to be on the hottest winning streak in decades.

They got every predicted snow storm this season right: Every one. Given the variables, what are the odds?

We must accept, however grudgingly, Nate Silver’s proclamation last September: The weatherman is not a moron.


In 1972, the service’s high-temperature forecast missed by an average of six degrees when made three days in advance. Now it’s down to three degrees. More stunning, in 1940, the chance of an American being killed by lightning was about 1 in 400,000. Today it’s 1 in 11 million. This is partly because of changes in living patterns (more of our work is done indoors), but it’s also because better weather forecasts have helped us prepare.

Perhaps the most impressive gains have been in hurricane forecasting. Just 25 years ago, when the National Hurricane Center tried to predict where a hurricane would hit three days in advance of landfall, it missed by an average of 350 miles. If Hurricane Isaac, which made its unpredictable path through the Gulf of Mexico last month, had occurred in the late 1980s, the center might have projected landfall anywhere from Houston to Tallahassee, canceling untold thousands of business deals, flights and picnics in between — and damaging its reputation when the hurricane zeroed in hundreds of miles away. Now the average miss is only about 100 miles.

Why are weather forecasters succeeding when other predictors fail? It’s because long ago they came to accept the imperfections in their knowledge. That helped them understand that even the most sophisticated computers, combing through seemingly limitless data, are painfully ill equipped to predict something as dynamic as weather all by themselves. So as fields like economics began relying more on Big Data, meteorologists recognized that data on its own isn’t enough.

“Real spring” is supposed to arrive on Friday, the forecasters say. Don’t mess it up now, people.

Meanwhile, it’s a beautiful day at Target Field. Let’s play two . (Photo: Chris Iles, Minnesota Twins, via Facebook)

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Related: Fargo moves spring cleanup to fall. (Fargo Forum)

Yes, Minnesota, there really is a spring (Minnesota Prairie Roots)

Fargo will begin delivering sandbags to neighborhoods today, a reminder that the Red River flood is coming, an event I usually cover, depending on how serious it is. If you’re on the Red River and facing the flood, and don’t mind having a blogger tag along with you, please contact me at your convenience.

2) THE FORGOTTEN CITY IN TEXAS

Poor West, Texas. They picked a bad last week to have their town wiped out by the fertilizer plant explosion, and have had to watch Boston getting all the nation’s love since.

The kids went back to school yesterday, and were greeted by the rivals in the neighboring high school.

3) TEDDY’S BIG NIGHT

When last we met Teddy Kremer, 30, he was living the dream for one night as the batboy of the Cincinnati Reds. The young man with Down Syndrome won over everyone in the dugout, and the Cincinnati Enquirer was ripping our hearts out with the lovely story of the evening, which Teddy’s parents arranged for him by winning a fundraising auction.

It was supposed to be a one-shot deal, but he was back in the dugout last week, Cincinnati.com reports, with several wishes: “11 runs, 11 strikeouts for free pizza and a Todd Frazier home run.”

The Reds got him 11 runs, and 11 strikouts, and Todd Frazier took care of the rest.


In the sixth inning before an at-bat, Kremer said to Frazier, “C’mon, hit me a home run, I love you.” Frazier’s response? “I love you too, I’ll hit you one.” And then he did.

Meet Teddy.

4) NOSTALGIC FOR PROHIBITION

The Los Angeles Times immerses itself in the Reese Witherspoon arrest, but its column today could be written any day, aimed at the nobodies who drink to excess and commit crimes, drive drunk, or otherwise ruin lives.

Alcohol gets off easy, especially in a binge-drinking mecca like the Upper Midwest. And opinion writer Paul Whitefield knows better, but still…


Obviously, this problem — and this particular solution — has been around for a long time. It’s been 80 years since America’s grand but failed experiment with Prohibition. I doubt we’re going to bring it back.

But if years and years of public service announcements, and tougher and tougher penalties, aren’t keeping drunk drivers — including big-name celebrities — off our roads, what will it take?

Here’s what I propose: Anyone, and I mean anyone, who gets caught driving under the influence gets a mandatory one-year prison sentence. No time off for good behavior. No house arrest. No exceptions for first-time offenders — or, especially, the rich and famous.

Don’t like it? Too tough? Simple: Then don’t drink and drive.

It’s not Prohibition, but it would get everyone’s attention.

How much do we love our booze? At the Legislature, just about everything is getting taxed or fee’d in the various budget proposals. Except — at least in the case of the Senate — alcohol.

5) WHAT DO VOTERS WANT?

The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd got the usual tongues wagging over the weekend when she took President Obama to task for failing to get Senate opponents to background checks to cave.


Obama thinks he can use emotion to bring pressure on Congress. But that’s not how adults with power respond to things. He chooses not to get down in the weeds and pretend he values the stroking and other little things that matter to lawmakers.

… which drew a strong pushback from Esquirer blogger/columnist Charles Pierce yesterday.


Uh, I dunno. Maybe because the Senate is uniquely suited by its very structure and rules — one might even say, it’s “system” — to be hijacked by crazy people? Or because Mitch McConnell is afraid that, somewhere in Kentucky, there’s a wildeyed bastard of a state representatibe with his name on him?

So, which is it? It doesn’t matter, John Dickerson writes on Slate.


You have to have had the skill going in, and Obama wasn’t hired to have that skill. In fact, it was the opposite: Obama was hired because he was the anti-politician. He wasn’t of Washington and he wasn’t really of politics. So it should come as no surprise that he couldn’t suddenly master the art of politics. He was hired to play the guitar, and he’s not going to play the piano very well no matter how many times you tell him how LBJ mastered Brahms.

Why is it so hard to imagine the electorate embracing a candidate today who had the talents that would have been required to pass the gun bill? Because such a candidate would have a long legislative record full of compromises and backroom deals where he or she learned how to break through gridlock and get things done.

Bottom line? Voters often don’t want what they say they want.

Bonus I: It’s runoff season. Cow poop is coming your way (On Pasture)

Bonus II: Living in car country. A neat look at the hierarchy of highways in a place like Eagan. (streets.mn)

TODAY’S QUESTION

Democratic Sens. Schumer and Feinstein are among those calling for the death penalty. Today’s Question: Should prosecutors seek the death penalty for the Boston bombing suspect?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Technology and the Boston terror investigation.

Second hour: Can Libertarianism go mainstream?

Third hour: Adam Grant, author of, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.”

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander on “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” She spoke at St Thomas earlier this month.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – What’s next in Syria: Has Assad’s regime crossed the red line? Activists report at least 100 dead — and maybe many more — after six days of fighting near Damascus. tiots erupted in refugee Camps over the border in Jordan, and American allies in Britain and France claim Syria has already used chemical weapons.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - A century ago, a spark in Sarajevo ignited the fires of war across Europe. European statesmen had been in the process of stumbling into the First World War. Or as historian Christopher Clark would say, sleepwalking into the war. NPR will have a conversation with Clark about the Sleepwalkers.

State lawmakers say if the Mayo Clinic is going to expand in Rochester, more of the money will need to come from city and county residents. In their latest response to the hospital system’s plan, state lawmakers have asked Rochester to more than double its share of local taxes committed to the project, bringing the city’s contribution $128 million. The new tax money could come from an extension or increase of the local sales tax, a food and beverage tax, a lodging tax and an entertainment and recreation tax. MPR’s Elizabeth Baier looks at where local officials plan to get this money and how it will this affect the average Rochester citizen’s tax bill.

MPR’s Jess Mador assesses the not-really-spring: The cancellation of outdoor activities and sporting events, and why Minnesotans are about to lose it.