Weather Experts Take Heat—But Some Have Cool Ideas

What might weather experts have to teach us about work...and life?

Posted Jul 06, 2013

When did you last think about what weather experts might have to teach other fields (or maybe you never have)?  I’m always looking for ideas from one field that might be useful for others, and got to thinking about weather experts when I watched one.



Larry Gebert, weatherman for KTVB News in Boise, Idaho, wears a sports jacket and tie, nice slacks and white running shoes, for comfort, I assume.  There he stands, pointing to a green screen, sweeping his arms and eyes toward and away from it, perfectly coordinated with the weather map that appears on the TV screen.  It looks challenging enough just to pull that part off but then I thought about what else weather experts deal with. 

Larry and his expert colleagues look far away--into the future and across geography. Where I live, the weather comes in from the Pacific Ocean, which is at least 400 miles away, yet Gebert has to know about it and interpret it.  Also, the weather reports from far away are “in the future” because they represent what MAY happen in the next few days.


Pacfic weather from satellite, KATU

Second, weather experts show how the macro environment affects our local situation. Thunderstorms and wind, tornados and typhoons, forest fires and floods--they can devastate certain areas and miss others completely.  So the weather’s causes or sources may be broad but the impact is local and the experts translate the big trends into what’s relevant for us locally.

Last, weather experts like Gebert live in ambiguity.  How many times has a report not come true? We complain but we still have to admire how the experts accept being wrong, facing inconsistent patterns and the ambiguity around them. Weather doesn’t always work out as predicted, and the experts know that and are ready for several possible outcomes.

So what can we learn from weather experts?

Trends and events can come from far away and can affect us dramatically – think of Japan’s tsunami and the impact on supply chains and distribution of electronics.  We were unable to get certain products or parts because of the event.   Far from us in time and space.  Big impact.  Lesson: keep your eyes open for trends that seem far away and think about what might happen if they hit.

Local impacts may vary – again, the tsunami affected high tech firms a lot, but not agribusiness or retail so much.  It affected me because I have a friend in Japan, but not my colleague whose international friends are in Europe. So the impacts can be quite localized, like weather.  Lesson: learn to translate big trends into local outcomes and realize they can vary across people, industries, and communities.


Tornado, National Geographic

We can’t always predict accurately what a trend or event will mean – so it’s good to have alternative plans “just in case” things turn tough.  Lesson: accept that predictions are hard, look for backups, and be open to the unexpected. 

Now, go watch the weather report and see what other surprises you can find!