Editorial: The forecast this week is predictably unpredictable

The forecast for this week included a fairly substantial amount of rain, and Tuesday there was plenty. There was also a wet weekend not all that long ago, but it's been fairly dry this summer, so Harford has been in and out of drought status over the past few weeks.

Such weather is the lament of farmers, nursery operators and plenty of other folks whose livelihoods depend on something that is as unpredictable as the weather.

Then again, an awful lot of effort goes into predicting the weather. An entire division of the federal government is dedicated to the pursuit of the perfect forecast, that being the National Weather Service. Myriad and multi-faceted as the factors going into weather forecasting are that computer programs designed to take them all into account began to generate errors at, get this, a fairly predictable rate. This observation gave rise to what physicists call Chaos Theory, a complicated bit of calculus that seeks — and this is a vast over-simplification — to find order among things that appear to have no relationship.

So from a certain perspective, the weather is predictably unpredictable. This is of no consolation to anyone whose crop has been ruined by a lack of rain, or whose vacation has been snowed out, frozen out, rained out or baked into oblivion.

As for this year, to date Harford County has been in the situation of things not being perfect, but not being all that bad, either. Keep in mind that what are typically referred to as "normal" rainfall amounts for a calendar year are really long-term average rainfall amounts, based on, in these parts, a century or more of daily weather record keeping.

If the remains of a hurricane or two dump an above average amount of rain in a particular year, as happened last year, the average is adjusted based on the new data. But that average also includes years when there have been no tropical storms. Some such years are below average because of lack of named storms, but still have enough rain to keep crops green. Sometimes, the no storm years are dry (like this year). And other times, the average for the year is met, but only when a tropical system passes through after a bone dry summer and a lackluster harvest season.

This year may have been on the dry side in Harford County, but it's worth pointing out that at this time last year, the Susquehanna River was high and muddy, but coming down after a flood noteworthy in the weather history of the region.

As autumn begins, the Susquehanna has substantially less water in it, and the fields in the area are a lot drier.

What does it all mean?

Paula Harman, of Harman's Farm in Churchville, has as good a handle on that as you'll find: "Overall," she says, "we have learned it's not in our hands. It's in a higher power's hands and we can't do anything else."

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