Weather Forecast FAIL

You simply can’t trust any source.

My summer job as a cherry drying pilot depends on weather. When it rains, I fly. When it doesn’t rain, I don’t. If there’s absolutely no chance of rain, I can goof off.

Yesterday’s forecast called for haze with mostly sunny skies with a 0% chance of rain. I stayed in most of the morning, working on a book revision, and knocked off two chapters. By then, it was 1 PM and I was ready to head down into town to do some errands, have lunch out, and do some grocery shopping.

But it was overcast. It was overcast most of the day. In my mind, overcast ≠ mostly sunny.

The clouds were high and moving quickly. There were patches that looked thick. There were some straggling low clouds that moved along with the ones above.

There was no haze. In fact, yesterday the air was the clearest it had been in over a week. The wind was probably to thank for that. It wasn’t very windy, but it was windy enough to have to close the window beside my desk. It was downright chilly.

I looked at the weather forecast again. Still the same, no chance of rain.

Radar does not show clouds.
One of my clients thought that radar images showed cloud coverage. Although there are usually clouds where the radar echoes appear, radar is supposed to show precipitation. In dry climates, however, rainfall often evaporates before it hits the ground, so you can’t rely on radar echoes to indicate rain unless they’re very strong echoes. Color indicates strength. You learn to read radar very quickly when weather is a major part of your life.

Then I looked at the current radar. There were plenty of light green echoes moving southwest to northeast at a good clip. Sometimes those echoes were right over me, although it wasn’t raining. I did not feel comfortable driving into town when weather radar and cloud coverage indicated that rain was a possibility.

By 4 PM, I was tired of waiting. Despite the cloud cover and those light radar echoes, the forecast still said there was a 0% chance. It was obviously not going to rain.

I got in my truck and headed down to Wenatchee.

I hit a few stores to pick up a few things. Then I had an excellent meal at Smokeblossom on Wenatchee Avenue. Afterwards, I headed to East Wenatchee where there’s a Safeway supermarket I like.

I was filling up my truck with diesel at Safeway’s fuel pumps when my phone rang. It was my client.

“Hey, Maria. Is it raining up there?”

I’m living across the street from his orchard, so I should know the weather. I was embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t there, but I wasn’t about to lie. “I’m down in town,” I told him. And then I looked up. From my position, I could clearly see up the canyon toward the orchard. And it sure as hell looked as if it were raining. I reported what I saw and added, “I’m just getting gas in my truck now. I’ll head right back up there and give you a call.”

As I finished fueling, rain started falling on the truck. It was a light drizzle.

I sped back across the bridge, winding my way through traffic, and got on the road that would take me back to the orchard. It was raining on me the whole time. Just enough of a drizzle to put the wipers on their lowest setting. The road wasn’t wet, though.

I drove into the orchard and parked beside some trees. I got out of the truck and looked at the cherries. Some tiny drops were on them. I got back in the truck and drove over to another area. More tiny drops. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but I wasn’t a decision maker.

My client arrived a while later. He took one of the quads and toured the orchard. I went back to my trailer and closed it up. The rain pattered gently on the roof. The temperature dropped to 65°F.

I waited. It was getting late. I’d arrived at the orchard at about 6:30 PM. Sunset was around 8:20 PM. I’d have enough light to fly until 8:50 PM. I needed nearly 2 hours to dry the orchard. It was unlikely that they’d launch me while it was still raining. I kept checking the weather. The radar kept showing bands of possible rain coming our way. At 7 PM, the forecast updated to admit that there was a 20% chance of showers. While it was raining.

My client called at 7:30 and I walked across the street to the shed to talk to him. “False alarm,” he said. “Not wet enough to worry about.”

Of course, it was still raining. We discussed what we’d do if it started raining harder or rained in the middle of the night. Then we parted and I went in for the night.

I didn’t get a chance to do my grocery shopping.

It rained until 11 PM or later. I think it may have rained a bit in the middle of the night, too. In the morning, as soon as it got light to see, I walked across the street and checked out the cherries on the closest trees. Some were bone dry. Others were soaking wet.

I flew 1.8 hours this morning.

WeatherToday is a beautiful day, with thin high clouds and puffy thick ones floating out to the northeast at about 10,000 feet. The forecast says mostly sunny. Again.

I think I’ll head out and do my grocery shopping early, just in case.

What do you think?