Motorcycles and Weather Forecasting

Motorcycle riders, especially long distance motorcycle travelers, are impacted by the weather more than most folks and are therefore very aware of weather conditions. Like farmers, outdoor construction workers, and others who derive their income or who recreate in the great out-of-doors, we become quite proficient at predicting local weather through observations of the various meteorlogical conditions all around us. But we often have to depend on others to tell us what conditions are expected to be hundreds of miles away, by the time we arrive.

The beef I have is with weather prognosticators and forecasters - those businesses on the Internet and all those paid spokespersons on television who can barely contain themselves as they promise days of wine and roses, or on the other extreme describe to us the meteorlogical terrors that await those that don't abide by their warnings, what with their rantings of record cold, record heat, baseball sized hail, drought conditions, high levels of UV rays, and tornado watches, you'd think the world was coming to an end.
But overuse and abuse of superlatives and hyperbole is one thing; not being able to accurately predict the weather despite enough high technology to defeat the evil empire in a real Star Wars scenario, is what really bugs me.
I no longer put any faith in weather forecasts. They have failed me too often, usually when my trust in them was most important. I will use my own analysis and observation, based on several decades of living, working, and recreating in the great outdoors, including over a quarter million miles on motorcycles during which my weather observation skills have been honed to a pretty good edge.

On a scale of one to ten, with 1 being absolute disdain and total lack of trust in weather forecasts and ten granting them infallibility, I give forecast services a three at best. They're wrong more often than right, and I've paid the price for this too often. From now on if I get wet or cold it'll be my own fault, not because I trusted somebody who reads a forecast produced by computer software.

From years of firsthand experience I know that in mid-June weather in the Great Lakes area can range from very cool and wet to downright hot and wet. The atmosphere contains a lot of moisture in June in the upper midwest and dodging rain is a frequent reality. Temperatures in June are generally mild, but sometimes not.

My most recent experience with fallible computer forecasts was two weeks ago while on a lengthy bike trip across Wisconsin. Prior to leaving I checked the Internet to determine weather conditions all across Wisconsin and forecasts for the next several days.
The Internet weather sites confirmed what I could see out my door and I prepared to run into clouds and possible light rain as I skirted Lake Michigan to the south. The 'good news', that I put too much faith in as it turned out, was that I was supposed to encounter just the tail end of a rain-producing system near Chicago, and west and north of there the technological gods promised relative warmth and plentiful sunshine. I lucked out with little more than a light drizzle near Chicago.
My personal impression was that the nights were going to be cool with a likelihood of at least some rain most nights while on my trip. Because of this I planned to find cheap mom & pop motels to stay in, and left my camping gear home.
What a wise decision that turned out to be! The first night we had an old-fashioned gully washer that flooded the motel parking lot, but the local TV weatherman the next morning gave glowing promises of clear skies by noon, temperatures in the low 70s, and no further chance of rain.
Trusting his fatherly advice, I headed out into southern Wisconsin's bucolic countryside. Four hours later I was caught in a major thunderstorm near Milwaukee, and spent almost an hour under an overpass watching small hail being blown by fierce winds, and lightning flashes equal to the best special effects Hollywood could produce.
That night I found refuge near Madison. The local TV station had non-stop coverage of the storm that wasn't supposed to happen, which I found out included a tornado near Milwuakee. So much for blue skies!
But the next morning the TV forecaster made the same rosy forecast, only lowering predicted high temperatures from 70 to the mid-60s. But blue skies and a beautiful spring-like day were promised for virtually all of Wisconsin, with their impressive looking map renderings based on satellites signals showing nary a sign of clouds, let alone rain. That's odd, I thought, as I looked outside at a dark and dreary sky with clouds so low it seemed I could get on a ladder and swing a bucket through them, ending up with the bucket at least half full of water as a result. But the handsome man said the clouds would dissipate as soon as the sun got a little higher in the sky. I took a little comfort; it was only 7:00 in the morning after all, so maybe I was expecting too much too early in the day.

So onto Wisconsin's marvelous back roads I departed on my trusty two-wheeler, with Eau Claire being my ultimate destination for that evening. The sky darkened, the temperature dropped, and light rain fell throughout the day. If the temperature ever exceeded 55 I would have thought myself very fortunate. Lousy damned weather forecasters I swore repeatedly under my breath!
Next morning, with the temperature in the low 40s, I again turned on the local TV station to see what they were going to unreasonably promise in the way of weather conditions. They concurred with what I already knew about it being a cold night and that the prior day had been a dreary, wet and cool example of Wisconsin's changeable weather, but today would be better! Count on it! The sun would be out by late morning and temperatures would rise accordingly; because it WAS mid-June after all, the weather announcer reminded us all.

So I point my bike east toward Wausau, wondering just when the clouds were going to be burned off by the sun that I knew had to be up there somewhere. In downtown Wausau, exploring the riverfront park area while eating a sandwich for lunch, I smiled broadly when the sun actually broke through and I felt its warmth for the first time in days! Great, I thought, the tide is turning and conditions will now be what I was hoping for and computer chips had been predicting, all along.
So north I ride, to Eagle River, to meet a friend and three of his family members who had come from four different directions on their motorcycles to meet at ther family cabin for a few days of R&R and riding some of northern Wisconsin's best roads. It'll be great, I thought, riding through this beautiful area on renowned biking roads with the warm sun overhead and good friends beside me. Wrong!
The temps dropped, the clouds moved in with a vengeance, and by the time I got to Eagle River I fully expected the unpredicted rain falling from the clouds that the computers claimed weren't there to turn to unpredicted snow which the computers probably wouldn't be able to process and they'd just burn up in the attempt due to sensory overload. We had a very pleasant time in the cabin playing cards and imbibing a little alcohol to ward off frostbite, but exploring local roads was left for another day.

For five days on this motorcycle trip the weather forecasters and computer models promised clearing skies, the end to rain, and pleasant temps under mostly sunny skies. For five days they were dead wrong. It's happened way too often in the past. I refuse to put my faith in computer weather forecasting models again. I'll rely instead on my own experience and abilities - betting that I'll be disappointed and frustrated less often than when depending on weather forecasters who seem to be employed by the local chamber of commerce, and whose real job is to make tourists believe everything will be fine, so come on up and spend your money - oh, and don't worry about those clouds and raindrops, they're just figments of your imagination. Besides, they'll be gone by noon, you have our word on it.