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Physician vs Weatherman

By James Barone MD

Why wouldn't any physician want to be a weatherman?

As I sit here this morning, two inches of snow are on the ground and the snow shows no sign of letting up. The forecast was “Snow showers with no accumulation.” Once again, the forecast was wrong.

Just how accurate are weather forecasts? A New York Times article described in detail a study that was done in Missouri. It showed that television meteorologists were remarkably bad at predicting the weather and the further out the forecast went, the worse they did.

A website called “Forecast Advisor” tracks the accuracy of forecasts for any area of the country. For New York City last year. The first screen shot shows three different forecasts for today. The first was posted yesterday and the other two are revisions. None are correct as it is snowing heavily right now. The second screen shot lists cumulative accuracy statistics for the New York City area. At first glance, the accuracy for last year looks pretty good. But here’s an interesting thought. According to the New York Times article if you predicted it would not rain every day, you were right 86% of the time.

The website Weather Report Card gave “D” grades to all five major weather services that it follows regarding both temperature and precipitation forecasts for yesterday, January 24, 2011.

Now contrast this with my current profession, general surgery. How would you feel about me if I told you I made the correct diagnosis of appendicitis 76% of the time last month? Or say I told you that you needed hernia surgery but my record of actually finding a hernia was 86%? I think I would very soon be out of business.

Not so the weathermen. It seems that they are immune to criticism or accountability. In fact, the Times report stated, “When station managers were asked about this [accountability], one said, ‘There’s not an evaluation of accuracy in hiring meteorologists. Presentation takes precedence over accuracy.’”

This is why I’d like to be reincarnated as a weatherman. You can be wrong as often as you like. And if you are, no one cares. In addition, you get to engage in witty banter with the news anchors and the sports guy. My really special reincarnation wish would be to come back as the guy who stands on the beach during a hurricane and tells you it’s raining hard as my hat blows away and billboards fly past. By the way, what do those guys do when there are no hurricanes? I want that job too.

About: James Barone MD has been a surgeon for almost 40 years and a surgical department chairman for over 23 of those years. He blogs at

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