MARTY RUSSELL: Call Vegas; see what the odds are on a harsh winter

By Marty Russell

When I taught an editorial and opinion writing course I used to use an old joke to illustrate the fallacy of using a circular argument to make a point. It went something like this:
It was autumn and the Indians on the reservation asked their new chief if it was going to be a cold winter. Raised in the ways of the modern world, the chief had never been taught the old secrets of Indian weather forecasting so, to be on the safe side, he advised the tribe to collect wood and be prepared for a cold winter. A few days later, as an afterthought, he called the National Weather Service and asked if they were forecasting a cold winter. The meteorologist replied that, indeed, he thought the winter would be quite cold.
The chief advised the tribe to stock even more wood. A couple of weeks later, the chief checked in again with the weather service.
“Does it still look like a cold winter?” asked the chief.
“It sure does,” replied the meteorologist. “It looks like a very cold winter.”
The chief advised the tribe to gather up every scrap of wood they could find. A couple of weeks later the chief called the weather service again and asked how the winter was looking at that point.
The meteorologist said, “We’re now forecasting that it will be one of the coldest winters on record!”
“Really!” said the chief. “How can you be so sure?”
The meteorologist replied, “Because the Indians are collecting wood like crazy!”
I don’t know what the Indians are up to this fall but if the weather this winter is as extreme as it was this summer, maybe we should start gathering up as much wood as possible. Just look at what happened to the Northeast last week while it was still October.
Weather forecasting is an inaccurate science at best, sort of like predicting what your spouse will do next. You’ve observed them for years, you know what they’re likely to do, but occasionally they’ll surprise you.
About all the so-called weather experts seem to agree on for this winter is that there will be another La Nina forming in the Pacific similar to the one this summer that resulted in clashes of cooler air from the west and warmer air from the east that resulted in one of the worst tornado outbreaks on record. La Nina means colder water temperatures along the Pacific equatorial zone. Also predicted is what is known as an Arctic Oscillation, meaning large swings in temperatures this winter.
I don’t know who the old farmer is but his almanac says we’ll be drier with above average temperatures here in the South while Accuweather predicts more ice than snow in the South.
Maybe we should just ask the Indians. Or Vegas.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by email at marusse1@olemiss.edu