Reflections on a Quarter Century of Storm Forecasting

As of last week, I have been forecasting and researching severe storms (in SELS-Kansas City and its Norman successor) for 25 years, not counting prior time at NHC and NSSL. That’s 1/4 century of living the dream of a tornado-obsessed kid. Much has transpired professionally and personally in that time span, most of it decidedly for the better. The only negative is that I’m a quarter-century older. Give how little I knew then compared to now, and how little I knew about how little I knew, maybe the geezers of my youth were right, in that youth is wasted on the young.

The science of severe-weather prediction has advanced markedly. More is understood about the development and maintenance of severe storms than ever before. Numerical models also are better than ever, yet still riddled with flaws known to forecasters that belie their hype as panaceas. Most weather media, social media weather pundits outside front-line forecasters, and far too many Twitter-active pure researchers and grad students exhibit naivete and ignorance about both the flaws of models in applied use, and the still-urgent need for humans in forecasting (yes, forecasting, not just so-called “decision support services” a.k.a. DSS).

Fortunately, most of those who actually do the job — the experienced severe-storms-prediction specialists who are my colleagues — know better, and incorporate both the science and art (yes, art!) of meteorology into forecasting, to varying extents. Yet pitfalls lie in our path in forms of several interrelated ideas:

    * Automation: Even if the human forecast is better at a certain time scale, at what point does the bureaucracy (beholden to budget, not excellence) decide the cost-benefit ratio is worth losing some forecast quality to replace humans with bots that don’t take sick leave, join unions, nor collect night differential? I wrote in much more detail about this two years ago, and that discussion touches upon some of what I am re-emphasizing below. Please go back and read that if you haven’t already.

    * Duty creep with loss of diagnostic-understanding time: Cram more nickel-and-dime, non-meteorological side duties into the same time frames with the same staffing levels, a social-media nickel this year, a video-briefing dime the next, and something must give. In my experience, that is analysis and understanding, which in an ironically self-fulfilling way, stagnates human forecast skill (and more importantly, sacrificing concentration and situational understanding) whilst allowing models to catch up. Knowing how bureaucracy works, I suspect this is by design.

    * Mission sidetracking – “DSS” including customized media and social-media services: I don’t deny the importance of DSS; in fact I support it! Outreach is good! Yet DSS should not be done by the full-time, front-line forecasters who ideally need to be laser-focused on meteorological understanding when on duty, and making forecasts the most excellent possible. DSS should be a separate and parallel staffing with social-science-trained specialists in outreach everywhere DSS is required. Otherwise, quality above what the models can provide (which still is possible, especially on Day-1 and day-2, and in complex phenomena like severe and winter storms) will be lost prematurely and unnecessarily.

    * Loss of focus — see the last two bullets: A growing body of psychological literature resoundingly debunks the notion of “multitasking”. We lose focus and delay or dilute accomplishment when concentration is broken and interruptions occur. Management should be focusing on reducing, not increasing, distractions and interruptions on the forecast desk. Forecast quality and human lives are at stake.

    * De-emphasis of science in service: Physical and conceptual understanding matter in the preparation of consistently high-quality forecasts — especially on the complicated, multi-variate area of severe local storms. These are not day-5 dewpoint grids, and this is why my workplace has published more scientific research than any other publicly funded forecasting office, by far. Tornadoes, severe hail and thunderstorm winds are highly dependent on time and space overlaps of multiple kinds of forcings that models still do not often handle well, partly because of the “garbage in, garbage out” phenomenon (input observations are not dense enough), partly due to imperfect model physics and assimilation methods. Severe-storms specialists must have both self-motivation and continued support from above to understand the science — not only by getting training and reading papers, but by writing papers and performing research!

    * Model-driven temptation to complacency: This is a form of Snellman’s meteorological cancer. I wrote about some of these topics here 13 years ago in far more detail, under the umbrella of ensemble forecasting. Please read that discussion! I see no need so far to amend any of it, except to add thoughts about focus and concentration (above). If forecasters don’t think they can improve on a model, even if they really can, or just don’t feel like making effort to do so amidst other demands for time, they’ll just regurgitate the output, at which point their jobs can (and probably should!) be automated.

    * Meddling in the mission by distant, detached bureaucratic ignoramuses. Schism between upper-management assumptions and real front-line knowledge is a common theme across all governmental and corporate bureaucracies, and is nothing new across generations. In my arena, it manifests as lack of understanding and appreciation for the difficulty and complexity of the work, and in the difference in respecting the absolutely urgent need for direct, devoted, focused human involvement. The very first people with whom policy-makers should discuss severe-storms-prediction issues are the front-line severe-storms forecasters — that is, if knowledge and understanding matter at all in making policy.

At this stage of my career, I’m neither an embittered old cynic nor a tail-wagging puppy panting with naive glee. I never was the latter and I intend not to turn into the former. Instead I observe and study developments in a level-headed way, as both an idealist and a realist, assess them with reason and logic, and report about them with brutal honesty. I doing so, I’ll say that there is cause for both optimism and pessimism at this critical juncture. I’ve covered the pitfalls (pessimism) already.

How can optimism be realized? It’s straightforward, though not easy. We must continue to grow the science, emphasize the human element of physical and conceptual understanding (including the still-important role of human understanding and the art of meteorology) in such complex and multivariate phenomena, use ever-improving (but still highly imperfect!) models as tools and not crutches, study and learn every single day, minimize distractions/disruptions, and most of all, focus on and fight for excellence!

I’m now decidedly closer to retirement than to the start of my career. Yet you can count on this: you won’t see me coast, nor go FIGMO, nor be merely “good enough for government work”! Such behavior is absolutely unacceptable, pathologically lazy, morally wrong, and completely counter to my nature. The passion for atmospheric violence still burns hot as ever.

Excellence is not synonymous with perfection, and the latter is impossible anyway. I will issue occasional bad forecasts, and I hope, far more great ones. Regardless of the fickle vagaries of individual events, I must start each new day for what it is — a different challenge ready to be tackled, compartmentalized unto itself, not the same as the great or crappy forecast of the previous shift. I must settle for nothing less than consistency of excellence in performance, lead the next generation by example in effort, and advance the science further. I’ll be pouring the best reasoning I know into each forecast, even if that is necessarily imperfect and incomplete. I’ll be doing research and writing more papers. I’ll be educating and speaking and writing and raising awareness on severe-storms topics, trying to pass understanding on to both users of the forecasts and forecasters of the future.

I’m paid well enough, and the taxpayer deserves no less than excellence in return for his/her investment in me. That is my driven purpose in the years remaining in full-time severe-weather forecasting.

Scattershooting 180331

Scattershooting while wondering what became of integrity and honor in the highest reaches of government…

Heresy from the Pulpit: The most insidious and destructive heretics are those with the titles, “Reverend”, “Priest” or “Pastor”. Think about that. False teachers within Christianity do far more to undermine it than any external attackers ever can.

Public Figures Are Fair Game, even if they are outspoken teenagers. The notion that those teens of Parkland, FL, who have chosen to become publicly outspoken, are immune from criticism or debate because they’re technically minors, or because they saw horrible things, is absurd and irrational. Such argument is emotional—thus, not logical or reasoned. When you voluntarily thrust yourself into the public eye with media appearances while offering controversial opinions, like it or not, you now are a public figure. With that comes criticism. Those who disagree with them have the unfettered First Amendment right to say so, in whatever manner they choose. Sometimes it’s not nice. That’s the brutally honest truth. Even if they are being manipulated and used by the leftists among media and Soros-backed powers that be, as I believe, their actions still are chosen. Public figures are not sacred, and do not get an immunity card just because they endured a traumatic experience. They should deal with it or withdraw from the spotlight.

Prostituting Storm Chasing for a Quick Buck: I hate to say I told you…aww bullshit, to be brutally honest, no I don’t. It is satisfying to be correct. You bet it is. If that’s a flaw of mine, so be it. And yes, I told you so, starting in the late 1990s, that this was going to happen, the market is saturated, has been for a decade or more, and I shed no tears. Two different people’s comments on social media:

    “Chasing don’t (sic) pay any more anyway. To (sic) many free cell phone videos out there for me to bust my ass any more. If I have nothing to do I’ll chase and just keep my video’s (sic) now days (sic). “

    “I gave up hope in getting paid 2 years ago actually. I know people still are but it’s so cutthroat that I don’t care to try anymore.”

Maybe storm observing really is not about how much money you can make off a loud, screaming, shaky, self-glorifying video offering, but instead…drumroll: appreciation of storms! Maturity and reality are combining to teach what I espoused long ago. Welcome to the right side.

Stop Using “(Sic)”? Why? It signifies error in original quoted text: not my error, but the writer’s. If your text is quoted and you don’t like my tagging those errors, simple solution: write better. If you didn’t write the text and the tags bother you, simple solution: stop reading. Nobody forced you here.

Technological Psyops Against Children, and All of Us

Some of my posts are intended to get you to think. This is one of the most important I’ve done. Parents, especially young parents, pay attention! Future parents too:

This article (please read it all before proceeding!) is the most comprehensive I’ve seen on how psychologists and social scientists are “weaponized” industrially to hook children and teens on Internet chat, social media and video games.

Excerpt: “The parents I work with simply have no idea about the immense amount of financial and psychological firepower aimed at their children to keep them playing video games “forever.””

Another excerpt: “These parents have no idea that lurking behind their kids’ screens and phones are a multitude of psychologists, neuroscientists, and social science experts who use their knowledge of psychological vulnerabilities to devise products that capture kids’ attention for the sake of industry profit. What these parents and most of the world have yet to grasp is that psychology — a discipline that we associate with healing — is now being used as a weapon against children.”

The issue is bigger still. I’ve seen this play out first-hand in people I’ve known — adults and kids who neglect reality for online. This is not a conspiracy theory. This is well-known in intelligence circles as psyops: psychological operations. It is reality, and at work every day online, as it has in other forms for decades.

Psyops: know this concept, and learn to recognize it, because there truly is a war for the mind being waged on you and your children. The same could be said about social media, or 15-20 years ago, online chats. They all can be tools for good…but also, evil and destruction.

Psyops isn’t just a military concept, despite that origin of the acronym, but has been employed by governments, news media, and corporations for generations in the form of propaganda, overt and covert (including subliminal) mind games. Digital online psyops take it to a whole new level. Artificial intelligence, psychology, social science, and neuroscience work together to build ever-more persuasive yet subtle algorithms to hook people — especially vulnerable, immature, cognitively and emotionally underdeveloped pre-teen and teen minds. [Of course it works with plenty of adults too, but teens are especially susceptible to industrialized online psyops.] The best tactics manipulate individuals and the masses without their knowing it.

Sociopaths are masters of psyops on the individual level. Even simple ol’ stereotypical Bubba, the former dropout and current alcoholic woman-beater, employs psyops to convince the woman to stay in that abusive relationship. So…imagine how well that richly funded and highly coordinated teams of hard-core professionals, including published scientists and their findings, most certainly can manipulate children, teens and vulnerable adults corporately on large scales — and as the article notes well, they do.

Likely without realizing it — since he doesn’t acknowledge the deep history nor the old acronym — the author:

    1. Has stumbled upon the age-old concept of psyops and
    2. Is engaging in taught manipulation tactics himself — the long established, formulaic, paint-by-numbers method of Journalism 101 to hook the reader: a) personal anecdote, b) background, c) interviews for credibility, etc.

Point is: it doesn’t matter if you lean left or right, claim the middle ground (which rarely is, in reality), or are simply apathetic. Psyops are being used on us all, corporately, right where we are, right now. Included in the corporate for-profit psyops is media (this is why clickbait works, as well as more subtle and subliminal forms buried in stories, including media bias).

Governmental deep-state agencies are well-versed in this too. China, for example, is creating a systemic Big Brother psyops control system leveraging AI, cellular tracking, real-time big-data analysis, ubiquitous video cameras, and social-worthiness ratings to control the movements and actions of the people. Orwell and Huxley were prescient, if a few decades early. Russia — and yes, the U.S. — are at the forefront of covert psyops “advancement” and have been for many decades.

These methods are only going to get more sophisticated with time. Don’t think, for a minute, that won’t include government and media agendas as well as non-media corporations. Let’s address three other main areas besides effects on youth (and there are many others!).

Societal impacts: Minds altered in the process of practicing these addicting behaviors do destroy relationships on individual levels, and cause a collective drag on society. Twenty years ago, social media didn’t exist, but video games and especially online chats did. I have witnessed this phenomenon with a ringside seat (as a former spouse of one deeply involved), and it can lead to dangerously risky behavior toward self and others, as well as attempted or successful suicide. Permitting oneself to get tangled up in this does not absolve one of the personal responsibility to acknowledge, get out of the situation, and get help to fix their problems, as necessary.

Regardless, the collective societal wreckage of many altered/maladjusted minds is going to cost us all. The young adult who spent teen years game-playing while his/her grades plummeted — even if socially readjusted, still can be ill-suited for college and/or job life afterward, their potential delayed by years or never fully realized. Online gambling addicts, gaming fiends, get-rich-quick suckers, smut addicts, the “likes” obsessed…the possibilities are nearly limitless. These will be a large volume of future welfare dependents, low-paid service workers, prisoners, and/or otherwise wasted talent arising from the herds of people involved.

Science ethics and law: The “weaponization” of science is real and has been for a long, long time. You know this. We have seen it with nuclear bombs developed with direct involvement of particle physicists. We’ve seen it with cruelty to animals in scientific lab testing of dangerous chemicals. We’ve seen it with assorted eugenics activities, from Hitler’s human-experimentation “labs” to Margaret Sanger. Those are tangible activities.

These psyops are less tangible, and as such, more insidious. What he discusses in the article is an example — and may be more destructive today and tomorrow due to its mass perniciousness — messing up millions and millions of minds. To what extent should psychology, neurology and social science self-police this? If they fail to, and so far they are, to what extent should these sciences be policed from the outside? By whom, with what qualifications?

Regulations: These issues cross state and international communications and commerce lines, and have obvious effects on the “general welfare” of the people, as well as Fourth Amendment privacy protection and constitutional separation of powers. As such, federal-level regulation of commercial and even media psyops can be constitutionally justifiable. [It’s harder when the media psyops are jointly run with federal help.] A weak argument can be made that psyops constitute free speech and press, assuming you believe mental abuse and manipulation are protected by the First Amendment. You tell me!

Regardless, it’s clear that some form of regulation may be on the way. Could distant, detached, faceless, suit-and-tie DC bureaucrats, almost certainly ignorant of both the technology and the science behind psyops, make the problem worse via good intentions, as has been the case with so many other issues?

Times are changing, and our world is getting more dangerous psychologically even as it may be getting safer from tangible, physical violence. However, what the “world is getting safer” heads-in-sand conveniently ignore is the intangible: psychological danger, clearly on the increase in systematic ways.

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