Happy, Safe 4th--and Watch the Weather

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As we start 4th of July weekend, we have many concerns--terrorism threats, unsafe fireworks, risks of fatalities on the highway. But one concern should be subject to scientific monitoring: the weather. And we should get accurate information.

Severe weather can threaten life and health. Risks of tornadoes, intense rain, flood, thunderstorms, and hurricanes are of concern to all of us.

It is in the interest of public health that we have accurate, up to date information, so that we can be alert and prepare for any threatening weather. This is particularly important for those of us in vulnerable locations--like Long Beach Island, New Jersey, the island where my family will vacation this weekend.

Imagine my consternation when I checked the Weather.com forecast for today, Friday, and learned simultaneously that

a) there was a 0% chance of rain in my area and
b) there was a severe weather alert in effect for my area that could result in: "CLUSTERS WHICH WILL INCREASE THE POTENTIAL FOR VERY HEAVY RAIN...INTENSE LIGHTNING AND PERHAPS BRIEF GUSTY WINDS."

So which way is it? I guess the weather service can come out looking good "whether or not" there is a severe storm.

How accurate are weather predictions? I have been skeptical since, as a child living in Chicago, my father showed me a letter to the editor in the local paper that read "Dear Sir: This is to notify you that I just shoveled 10 inches of 'partly cloudy' from my driveway." (I also remember the roasting that Al Roker received on NBC Today Show a few years back when he predicted the day before that the snow accumulation in New York City would be in "feet not inches" and there was hardly a flake).

Weather does indeed affect health. ACSH calls on those with expertise in this area to take a critical look at how accurate weather predictions really are these days--and how they might be improved, so that Americans might have up to date information, without hype and without confusion, so they can take action to protect themselves and their families.

Elizabeth Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H., is president of the American Council on Science and Health.