For time immemorial, forecasting the weather was simple. Fluffy clouds meant you could hunt mammoths all day with the sun to your back. A swollen knee indicated the heavens were about to open up, and you’d best get back in the cave. But somehow, by the 19th century, an obscure group of farmers could tell you everything you needed to know for an entire winter, and you’d believe them.
Nowadays, like so many things, the weather forecast has become more complicated, for better or for worse.
Tastes like snake oil. Photo by Steve Ogle
We check for upcoming conditions on our phones and computers, so we know what to expect on the slopes, or how many chiropractic visits we’ll need after shovelling the driveway. Although these publicly accessible resources—basically a bunch of websites—appear basic, there is a growing amount of intricate science involved in predicting the weather. So things must be becoming more precise, right? Nope.
Most Canucks rely on a dumbed-down Environment Canada six-day forecast, which is moderately accurate, except if you live in the mountains, where skiing happens. One or two days might be reliable, but beyond that, there’s no sense in planning a road trip to chase down a storm. But because chasing storms is basically living the skiing dream, we still defiantly search for more specific mountain forecasts to match our deepest desires: a copious amount of snow.
For optimists, snow-forecast.com is a good bookmark, since it covers the ski resorts (but also its own proverbial ass) by laying out dubious sun, snow and cloud icons—a healthy mix of everything, every day, that you can interpret at will. For mystics, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the Farmer’s Almanac, the precursor to our foolhardy need to forecast so far in advance. It’s a periodical whose annual distribution exceeds four million copies, which is more than any ski magazine, including this one. According to Almanac readers, more than 80 per cent of predictions are accurate, which, if you consider their ridiculously long-range time frame (as far out as two years), is nonsensical. To be sure, the Almanac should be taken with a very large grain of salt—incidentally, something that can predict relative humidity better than the Almanac itself. Although blanket weather statements for an entire season are, of course, preposterous, the Almanac doesn’t act alone in this regard. We’ve all seen the online weather graphs released in September showing red zones in places like Mount Baker, where (surprise!) it’s going to snow like crazy. Still, people react in sheep-like fashion—just listen for skiers regurgitating meteorological snake oil at your local coffee shop.
Obviously, it’s difficult not to be cynical about predicting the weather. But there is hope. For those who immerse themselves fully into winter, checking the weather is overrated and at times redundant. In fact, a subset of skiers has been using the “look outside” technique for generations. These are the diehards who wake up early to see how much snow fell on their car, the five-year-old licking up massive flakes, or—best of all—the folks who hedge their bets by showing up for first chair every day, regardless of the forecast.