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Rain defies forecast talents

When, at long last, will we finally get a good soaking? The answer depends on your choice of forecasters.

By BABITA PERSAUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 2000


TAMPA -- Wherever he goes, it's the only question people ask.

"It's not even, "Hey Paul, how are you doing?' anymore," said Paul Dellegatto, WTVT-Ch. 13's meteorologist. "It's only, "When's it going to rain? When's it going to rain?"

So, when is it going to rain?

It's a simple question. How about a simple answer?

"The best chance for a widespread soaking rain is in mid-May," stated the 2000 Farmer's Almanac.

Totally wrong.

Of course, Rick Davis, forecaster at the National Weather Service in Ruskin, suggests the answer is not nearly as simple as the question.

See, there's this extended La Nina weather pattern, and there was a stronger-than-normal La Nina last year and this year, and new data show La Nina has begun to weaken, and now we're waiting for atmospheric conditions to get back to normal.

He continued explaining that the rainy season was about to start -- the official start is Thursday, June 1 -- and the closer we get to that improves the chances of showers and thunderstorms.

Still, it won't be a drought buster, he said.

Davis is a mere forecaster. He can't actually make it rain. Yet even the rainmakers can't seem to make it rain.

Bobby Henry at the Seminole Indian Casino cultural museum did a rain dance Friday at the request of a radio station. He did everything a rainmaker could do: Hold the water turtle up to the sky. Chant. Shake his shaker.

Nothing.

But it takes 15 minutes to four days for the effect to kick in, said his daughter Susie Henry, trying to remain optimistic.

You'd think a consultant would know.

Bruce Campbell runs his own weather service, Bruce Meteorological Service Inc., out of a back bedroom in his Tampa home. He has 38 years of experience in forecasting and has the gruff voice of someone who has been around awhile. Data from big mainframes set up in upstate New York and North Carolina flow into his home computer, and Campbell then compiles it all for his clients: farmers, food brokers and chemical companies.

He gets a read out and sets it on a directional grid with points north, south, east and west. This is called a prognosis chart, he said, or "prog chart" for short.

So, he's got a computer and paying clients. Surely he's got the answer at his fingertips, right?

A few taps on the keyboard produces this: The rainy season will bring rain, though "this is going to be a dry wet season."

But wait: the National Weather Service guy just said it was going to be a normal rainy season. What gives?

Models, Campbell says. Computer models, that is.

Mostly, weather forecasters use the MM5. His model goes beyond that, using real-time data and a more detailed grid.

"You know the last big freeze in Florida? Ours picked it up," Campbell boasts.

Significant rain, he said, should come "end of the second week of next month."

Translation: mid-June. A couple more weeks, at least.

Jack Rain, a 52-year-old organist who was queried based on nothing more than his last name, consulted his inner weatherman and came up with this prediction for the start of rain: "The middle of June."

Not bad, for pulling it out of nothing.

But since Dellegatto probably gets asked the question the most, he gets the final answer:

"Later this week," he said. "Thursday, Friday, Saturday."

That will be the start of the summer rainy season and the predictable, 4 o'clock rains.

Then presumably the question everyone will be asking Dellegatto will be: When is all this rain going to stop?

- Babita Persaud can be reached at (813) 226-3322 or persaud@sptimes.com.

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