The Weekender, January 24, 2020


Earlier this week, a baseball writer I follow on Twitter, Craig Calcaterra, shared a story about the rain. Well, about forecasts:

My dad, retired National Weather Service guy, said there was a concerted political push in the 80s by amusement parks, sports, event organizers, etc. to make “partly sunny” more common than “partly cloudy” because people would be less likely to cancel.

“Partly cloudy” and “partly sunny,” for what its worth, are mostly interchangeable; both mean “between 3/8 and 5/8 of the sky is covered by clouds” (but “partially sunny” can’t be used at night because, by definition, there’s no sun out at night). So maybe there’s something to Craig’s dad’s story… but probably not. As Craig notes, there’s a good chance this is more a joke than true: “Like so many things my dad has told me, I am not sure if he is pulling my leg about this or not.”

So I went investigating, which is to say I did a few Google searches. Nothing. Then I did a few searches through a newspaper archive I pay for. Also nothing, or at least nothing directly on point. I did, however, find something else, in an article from the Kansas City Times from April of 1976.

The article is about tornado warnings, primarily (and I can’t link to it because it’s behind a paywall). Long story short, the National Weather Service received notice that tornadoes had struck the state but, for reasons unclear, the message wasn’t relayed to radio stations (the early warning distribution system of the time) for more than half an hour. Lots of public complaints rolled in, as you’d expect. But what I didn’t expect was this:

If the image isn’t loading: a group of car wash owners asked the National Weather Service to stop using the word “rain” in forecasts when there was, say, only a 20% chance of rain. Why? Because when people think it’s going to rain, they don’t bother getting their cars washed.

I seriously doubt that National Weather Service cared enough about the car wash lobby to act on the request. And it wasn’t enough to support Craig’s story. So, sorry, I couldn’t turn this little story into a regular Now I Know column. It makes for a good Weekender, though.

Related reading: What does a 20% chance of rain mean, anyway?

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: I didn’t write anything, taking the day off in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Here’s a great story about his Nobel Prize, though.

Tuesday: How a Rock Band Helped Runaway Kids Find Their Way Home. I made a math mistake here — 21/36 is not 80%. Regardless, the video was a success. By the way, the Atlantic article I cite in the story, available here, is pretty interesting and only a three-minute read.

Wednesday: What To Do When Iguanas Fall From the Sky. When Florida gets cold, the cold iguanas get falling.

Thursday: The Principality of Sealand: A floating fake nation. For some reason, I call it a “seat fort” twice. Both are typos; it’s a sea fort.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “The Bizarre Bank Robbery That Shook an Arctic Town” (Outside Magazine, 15 minutes, January 2020). Longyearbyen — that’s the town’s name — is a trivia jackpot. It’s the home of a major seed bank, you’re not allowed to die there, and everyone has to learn to use a rifle (see the bonus fact on that second link). Oh, and this bank robbery.

2) “Wells Fargo Opened a Couple Million Fake Accounts” (Bloomberg, 7 minutes, September 2016). The title isn’t really what the article is about, and it isn’t the reason you should read the article. In short, a few years ago, Wells Fargo (a bank) opened a lot of fake bank accounts on behalf of its customers — and this became, as you’d imagine, a major scandal. But as the article notes, the scheme doesn’t make sense, as Wells Fargo made very little money in the scam and, once you consider how much work it took, they definitely came out in the red. So why bother? The article argues that this wasn’t some centrally-planned scheme — it was just (just?) the byproduct of the incentives offered to employees. 

3) “English Needs a Word for the Relationship Between Your Parents and Your In-Laws” (Slate, 6 minutes, December 2015). I saved this article a few months ago for something else I was writing, and I never really intended to share it here. But after re-reading it, it’s still pretty interesting — language quirks usually are. The gist: if you’re familiar with Yiddish, you may be familiar with the word machatunim. One’s machatunim are your children’s spouse’s parents, but there’s no word in English for this relationship. 

Have a great weekend!