Deadline NOW: Andrew Jorgensen and Robert Shiels
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Deadline NOW: Andrew Jorgensen and Robert Shiels

Friday, February 11, 2011

Now that the so-called "Groundhog Day Storm" of 2011 and "surprise" snowfall of February 5 have come and gone, host Jack Lessenberry explores the art and science of weather forecasting and the issue of climate change with Robert Shiels, Chief Meteorologist for WTOL-TV in Toledo, and Professor Andrew Jorgensen of the University of Toledo.

Robert "Bobby" Shiels earned a Bachelor of Science degree in meteorology from the University of Michigan. He holds the American Meteorological Society's Seal of Approval for television excellence. He now does the forecast for News 11 at 5:00, News 11 at 6:00, and News 11 at 11:00.

Dr. Jorgensen is a noted authority on climate change and has served as a Senior Fellow for the National Council for Science and the Environment. He is the Director of General Chemistry studies at the University of Toledo.

Jack Lessenberry's Final Thoughts for Friday, February 11, 2011:

Toward the beginning of last week they began telling us that the mother of all snowstorms was approaching the Detroit area.It would hit Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, and we’d get a foot of snow. Maybe fifteen inches. But when it was all over Wednesday, the snowfall where I live measured only a little over five inches. We’d hoarded all that salt pork and hardtack for nothing.

Three days later, on Saturday, the forecast was that we might get an inch or so of new snow after dark. So we went to a Bar Mitzvah celebration that morning and walked out three hours later -- into a blizzard that left more than six inches on the ground.

So despite modern science, the weather can still be stubbornly perverse on any given day. To me, there’s something sort of charming in this; in the fact that we still can’t completely domesticate the climate. But I am also a bit in awe of what the forecasters are able to accomplish. They were able to tell us that a major snowstorm was headed this way days before the first snowflake drifted down.

That’s pretty impressive. I’ve known a number of meteorologists in my life, some of whom had very impressive backgrounds. One had been a bomber pilot who spent more than a year in a Nazi prison camp. The other was an Air Force intelligence officer.

Both knew how crucial accurate weather reports can be, especially in wartime. Calling the weather correctly was essential to the success of the D-Day invasion, for example.

That, however, was not why either went into meteorology.One of them told me once, “look. Some people like politics, some don’t. Some are crazy about sports. Other people can’t tell a basketball from a barn door. But all of them want to know about the weather. Everybody is fascinated by the weather.”

Everyone, he calculated, including pretty women, would always want to talk to him, because he could tell them about the weather.

I’ve always wondered what happened to his social life on those occasions when his forecasts were wrong. With climate change a new factor to be reckoned with, weather forecasting in the twenty-first century is likely to be as interesting a career as ever.

And perhaps even more difficult. I hope you’ll be back with us next time. For Deadline Now, I’m Jack Lessenberry.