We're constantly bombarded with weather forecasts, telling us what to expect. We watch the nightly news so we don't miss the weather report. We tune our radio to the all-news station to catch the latest predictions. We lift our heads like Pavlov's dogs when we hear the phrase “and now your local on the 8's.” It's everywhere. We do not lack for weather predictions in our culture.
So you'd think we'd avoid it during our downtime.
Just ask Jonathan Carr, who is probably somewhere on your Facebook feed right now. Either you've “liked” his page or one of your friends has shared his latest status update. Don't recognize the name? Don't worry. You probably know him by his page, the ominously titled “Severe NJ Weather.”
With more than 115,000 “likes” and growing, Carr's Facebook presence is the new, hip, gotta-be-there go-to place for weather forecasts.
Carr, 33, isn't a meteorologist, climatologist, or any other -ologist. He's a contractor for the Department of Defense with a background in computer science and a love for weather.
“I started posting about the weather on my personal Facebook page in 2009,” Carr said. “I was extremely accurate, but it was probably annoying for those who didn't want to hear about it. So I started 'Severe NJ Weather' right in the middle of the 2009-2010 blizzards, and that's what jump-started the page. After the fourth storm, I went over 1,000 followers and got real excited.”
Carr's following grew at a modest rate. A few more storms, Hurricane Irene, this and that.
Then came Hurricane Sandy.
Carr nailed that one, first mentioning it on Oct. 21, a full eight days before landfall. As the days passed, his predictions became more dire and, as it turned out, more accurate than many of the professional meteorologists..
“These computer models come out and can show storms 10 days in advance,” Carr said. “Most television and weather networks are very conservative with their predictions. They have ratings to worry about, financial consequences. I have nothing to lose.”
Not that Carr disparages the work of the pros. He counts Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel and Joe Bastardi as huge influences. It's just that ... well, it's just that he's right more often than he's wrong. He seems — my opinion — better at what he does than the pros making six figures on your local television stations.
“I think having a computer science background helps me eliminate anomalies when I look at the models,” Carr said.
Well, whatever it is, Carr's Facebook site has become the first place many New Jersey residents hear about the next batch of “severe” weather.
And we can't get enough, especially when it comes to the white stuff.
“As far as snow goes, we're talking about New Jersey,” Carr said. “How many teachers, students, non-essential government workers do we have? And they're always looking for a day off. I bet 75 percent of my followers are in one of those groups. But then there's 25 percent that have to work no matter what the weather brings.”
And so as a result ...
“Hope or fear,” Carr said. “That's why people like talking about the weather. You can chalk it up to that.”
And talk we do, peppering Carr with comments and questions, with Carr responding to everyone.
“You turn on The Weather Channel, you can't ask them a question,” Carr said. “When people ask me questions, I'll answer. The two-way outlet builds up trust.”
And speaking of trust, fear not, weather junkies: Carr says this hobby of his will never end.
“Wherever there's severe weather in New Jersey, I'll be there,” he said.
Jeff Edelstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/jeffreyedelstein and @jeffedelstein on Twitter.