Hi, I’m Bud, and welcome to the National Weather Service weather-spotter training for March. Folks, this is a free training class, brought to you by NOAA, an important part of your federal government, so I just have to read you this announcement. Friends, are you tired of puny little folding umbrellas that hardly keep your forehead dry? What you want is a Carey's brand full-size doorman’s umbrella. Your Carey’s is more than an umbrella. It's a complete rain-interdiction system. And with plenty of room for two, a Carey’s doorman’s umbrella is bound to improve your love life, and you probably need some help in that department if you’re the kind of person who goes down to the Federal Building on a Saturday afternoon to take a weather-spotter training class. The next time it rains, carry a Carey’s! Proud sponsors of the National Weather Service for over eight years.

Okay, so we’re here to learn how to spot some weather, am I right? So the first thing we have to know is what weather looks like. And that can be hard, because there’s all kinds of weather. But the easiest thing to do is find a window. Did you all find a window? Here’s a hint: windows are usually on outside walls. Not always, but if they’re in an inside wall, they usually look into another room, and you’re not going to spot any weather, unless the roof caved in or something. So you find an outside window to look out, or you could even go outside, but there’s no need to go overboard with this stuff. Now, we’re lucky in this room, because that whole wall over there is windows that look outside, at least technically. I mean, mostly they look out on the Federal Reserve Bank, but there’s a little space between the buildings, and technically that’s outside.

Now, you might think that, if you spot something going on outside, that’s weather. Like let’s say you see some leaves blowing around, and you think, “Oh, that’s wind,” and wind is weather, right? But then you find out it’s just some guy named Fred with a leaf blower. See, that’s the most important thing about weather spotting: knowing when it’s weather and when it’s not. Like you might see water falling all over the lawn at one of those fancy suburban houses that I can’t afford because I work for the National Weather Service, and you think, “Oh, look, it’s raining,” but it’s just some guy named Fred who’s turned his sprinklers on. Most of what we call pseudo-weather phenomena are actually Fred-related, when you get down to the root of them. Or you might see meteors falling and smashing houses all over town, and you think, “Oh, that’s meteorology,” but it turns out that meteors have nothing to do with meteorology. I wish someone would explain that to me.

But let’s say you see something like weather going on, and you’ve eliminated the possibility of Fred. Like, let’s say it’s raining. Okay, what do you do with it? Well, you spot it. You notice that there’s weather occurring, and what kind of weather it is, and you gather whatever details you can for the next step.

So what’s the next step? Now here’s where you have to get on a streetcar, or a bus if there’s no streetcar line near you, and find a seat next to some other passenger, preferably one who’s reading a book or something so you know they’re not doing anything important. And here’s where all your weather-spotting training gets put to use. So you’re sitting on the streetcar, right, and there’s this woman next to you who’s reading the New York Review of Books, so obviously what she needs is information about the weather. So you turn to her and say, “It sure is raining hard out there.”

At this point she probably says something like, “Yes, it is,” and then turns back to her magazine, thinking you’ve run out of material. But you’re a trained weather spotter. So you can say something like, “It’s coming down at a rate of almost half an inch an hour. If it keeps up at this rate, we might break the twenty-four-hour record for this date set way back in 1927.” Now, how did you know all those figures? Well, one way is to have a good handle on the historical weather data, all of which could theoretically be found on the NOAA Web site if the NOAA Web site weren’t designed by well-meaning eight-year-olds. But the other way is to make them up. That works just as well, and it’s way less trouble, so it’s what most professional weather spotters would do.

So now the passenger next to you says something like “Is that so?” and makes a desperate attempt to get back to her magazine, but you’re prepared for that response. It’s true that the question itself doesn’t leave much opening for any other reply than “Yes, it is so,” or maybe “No, I was just fooling you,” but that’s why you ignore what she said and start to expand the subject. You can say something like, “It’s twenty-three degrees colder than it was this time yesterday. There’s a cold front moving through, and that always means unsettled weather.”

Now your passenger will probably say something like “Mm,” or maybe “Uh,” which means you should continue. Or she might say something like “Do you mind if I go back to my reading?”—which also means you should continue. So you go on to mention that the cold front is headed for a low-pressure system off the New Jersey coast, and so on, and you keep doing that until the passenger announces that she has to get off at the employee stop at the South Hills Junction maintenance shops and gets up to have an argument with the driver. That means you win.

Okay, so that’s it for the lecture part of today’s lesson. Now I want you all to go over to the windows and spot some weather, and then we’re going to do a role-playing exercise. We’ll split into pairs, and each pair will take turns being spotter and passenger. And don’t forget, this is all made possible by Carey’s brand full-size doorman’s umbrellas. If you can mention the sponsor when you’re talking to your passenger, you’ll get a couple of bonus points, so let’s get started.


  1. Fred says:

    Of course the rain is actually just global warming caused by the guy named Fred using the leaf blower. Everyone knows leaf blowers are notorious for that sort of thing.

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