Yahoo! Let’s go to the liquor store!

The room – indeed, the entire city – is filled with an uncomfortable, embarrassed silence. We had been preparing for an aggressive snowfall, as seen on TV roaring through the Midwest. The weathermen warned Rochester that it, too, would be hit hard. Expect a foot to a foot and a half by Wednesday evening.

REGION READIES FOR MAMMOTH STORM the daily newspaper proclaimed. In the office here, supervisors compiled lists of employees who owned four-wheel drive vehicles, so that the bosses could anticipate which of  us might be most likely to claw their way through the drifts and maze of fallen telephone poles.  Airline flights were canceled. Garbage collection was postponed, so that the trucks could be used to clear the streets. Panicked citizens swarmed the grocery stores, clutching in their white-knuckle hands the same shopping lists that their grandmothers had compiled as the Red Scare surged through America, calling for a well-stocked basement or bomb shelter. “Excuse me, sir, in what aisle may I find the powdered milk?”

And then, on to the liquor store.

This morning, most of us awoke to an additional two inches of snow, or less.  the remainder of the day unfolded as a business-as-usual winter’s snowfall. The true storm had sidestepped us, moving north to Canada. The weathermen did not apologize for this catastrophic miscalculation of catastrophe. We were hit by nothing but embarrassment. Embarrassment that we were left out of this natural national disaster. That we couldn’t display our ruggedness, show off our resourcefulness, make use of our excellent disaster preparedness lists.

Predictions, like opinions, are useless except as cocktail party fodder. Who do you think will win the Super Bowl? Anyone who has been knocked unconscious by a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker may have a worthy opinion. The rest of us are just regurgitating what we heard some TV commentator say.

News reporting has embraced prediction and opinion – meteorologists prefer to call it forecasting – to the point that when Americans are asked their views on complex social issues, they’re breathlessly echoed back to us as if some guy waving a sign proclaiming Obama was born in Kenya might actually know what he’s talking about.

All of this news is an inexact science.  A lot of it’s not even science. I don’t need a weather vane to tell me which way the wind blows. Or that it’s time to go to the liquor store.