The Tao of Forecasting

      Something mysterious is formed, born in the silent void. Waiting alone and unmoving, it is at once still and yet in constant motion. It is the source of all forecasting knowledge. It has no name, so we call it the Tao.

1       If the chart is seen, the surface form is seen.
      If the Tao is seen, then the underlying form is seen.
      Then there is truly harmony.

2       The foolish forecaster is told about Tao and laughs at it.
      The average forecaster is told about Tao and searches for it.
      The wise forecaster is told about Tao and follows it.

3       A novice asked the Master Forecaster: "Sometimes my forecast verifies, and other times it doesn't. I have followed the model guidance, yet I am totally baffled. What is the reason for this?"
      The Master replied: "You are confused because you do not understand Tao. Only a fool expects rational behavior from the atmosphere. Why do you expect this from a machine that humans have constructed? Computers simulate determinism; yet Tao arises from chaos. Therefore, you must contemplate Tao before you can use numerical models. Only then will you receive Enlightenment."
      "But how will I know when I have received Enlightenment?" asked the novice.
      "Your forecasts will be perfect," replied the Master.

4       There once was a Master Forecaster who consulted computer models in detail. Often he shook his head mightily and cried out in disgust. Often he tapped the chart in silent approval.
      The Novice, seeking to imitate him, also began to consult computer models, either crying out or tapping the chart in approval.
      When Novice asked the Master to evaluate his progress, the Master criticized him: "What is appropriate for the Master is not appropriate for the novice. You must understand Tao before transcending beyond the real atmosphere."

5       Taking a break from his forecast, the Student Forecaster said: "Master, what is Enlightenment?"
      Said Master Forecaster: "Enlightenment is complete attention on reality itself, instead of focusing on our intellectual and emotional reactions to reality. Reality is the ever-changing, ever-growing, indefinable something known as the atmosphere."
      The Student held up the 500 millibar chart: "But how does that help me with this?"
      The Master said: "Ignorance is seeing the lines and marks on the chart, and forecasting from that. But Enlightenment is using the lines and marks to see the atmosphere lying underneath."
      Feeling the humid breeze which wafted through the open door of the forecast office, Student and Master meditated on this.

6       Said the Student: "Show me the way to Enlightenment."
      The Master dug through a pile of weather charts and pulled out a satellite photo. "Do you see this?"
      "Enter here."

7       "All this Enlightenment stuff is nonsense," said the Bureaucrat.
      "You are perfectly correct," responded the Master Forecaster. "But this is a teaching I normally reserve for only my most advanced students."

8       Master and Student stood outside the forecast office, admiring a beautiful mammatus display underneath a thunderstorm anvil.
      Said Student: "Is there anything more miraculous than the wonders of nature?"
      Said Master: "Yes. Your appreciation of those wonders."

9       Said the Master: "When Student depends on numerical models, it is like chasing his own shadow. It makes Student healthy, fit, and enthusiastic, yet all the time he is running away from the sun."

10       A renowned Professor once visited the Master to learn about Enlightenment. "Let us see the weather patterns," said the Professor.
      The Master sat at his weather analysis computer, began with a blank weather chart, and pulled up hundreds of transparent overlays, turning the map into a chaotic sea of green. The Professor cried for him to clear the screen and start again.
      Said the Master: "The screen is full of weather maps and can hold no more. In the same way your mind is full of ideas and there is no room for my teachings, unless you empty it."

11       The Master's student was wrestling with a difficult weather forecast. Finally he set his pencil down and said: "Look at this ETA run. Look at it! How can it show the warm front here when my analysis shows it's clearly over here? The RUC even sinks it southward. This is chaos! Where is the Tao now?"
      The Master brushed the pencil away from the hand analysis and pointed at it. "There it is."

12       Bureaucrat went to the Master Forecaster and showed him the requirements to forecast for the Superbowl.
      He asked the Master: "How long will it take to produce a forecast if I assign five forecasters to the task?"
      "It will take three hours," said the Master promptly.
      "But we need a more timely forecast! How long will it take if I assign ten forecasters to it?"
      The Master Forecaster frowned. "In that case, it will take two days."
      "And what if I assign a hundred forecasters to it?"
      The Master Forecaster shrugged. "Then the forecast will never be completed."

13       A great storm was bearing down on the village. Pompous Forecaster was intently studying the radar with Novice, while the Master Forecaster was meditating in his chair.
      Said Pompous Forecaster, "Come over here and see this radar image. Notice the hook shape on this storm. Notice the mid-level mesocyclone alert. Notice the appearance of high VIL values. Surely there will be a tornado. We should take cover now."
      The Master Forecaster said. "There will be no tornado." He then resumed meditating.
      Pompous Forecaster was stunned. "You fool! The facts are right here on the screen. Do you not see?"
      The Master ignored him.
      It came to pass that the storm moved away, with no tornado. The Novice confronted the Master in private. "Please enlighten me, Great Master. How did you know there would be no tornado?"
      "Do you see the window over there? Look through it, Novice, and there you will find Tao."

14       The Master and Novice were sitting on a rock in the park. Energized by the sun, the Novice said: "Master, enlighten me so that I may find harmony in my forecasts."
      The Master pointed. "Look. Do you see that old man? A friend told me that he would climb Mount Xianjing tomorrow and stay up on the summit all night, drinking wine and carousing. Do you agree he will do this tomorrow?"
      Said the Novice: "I do not know. True, I could accept your friend's opinion, but I would want to go over right now and talk to this man, ask him questions, and understand him thoroughly before I could answer for certain."
      "You have been enlightened," said the Master.

15       Said the Master Forecaster:
      "A well-developed analysis is its own Heaven;
      A poorly-developed forecast is its own Hell."

16       Much to the dismay of the Master, the forecasters in the weather office eagerly accepted the duty to devise an immediate forecast for the Emperor's anniversary ceremony, ten days away. Many of the forecasters argued to use the MRF, while others insisted that the ECMWF should be followed.
      In a flash of insight, the student blurted, "Let us combine both models!"
      The Master suddenly came forth and reprimanded the student with a stick. "Novice! Enough nonsense. Come with me and let us meditate."
      The two went outside into the rock garden. The Master said, "Let us sit over here, where we cannot possibly be bothered by the blacksmith's smoke." The two went to a corner of the garden and sat in silence, relaxing their minds and staring into the sky, contemplating its great mysteries.
      After much time had passed, a small cloud of smoke from the blacksmith's fire wafted over and choked both Master and student. Suddenly the student was enlightened.

17       The Master was explaining the nature of Tao to one of his novices.
      "The Tao is embodied in all meteorology -- regardless of how insignificant," said the Master.
      "Is the Tao in a stratocumulus cloud?" asked the novice.
      "It is," came the reply.
      "Is the Tao in a SKEW-T diagram?" asked the novice.
      "It is even in a SKEW-T diagram," said the Master.
      "Is the Tao in a numerical forecast model?" asked the novice.
      The Master gently cleared his throat and stood up. "The lesson is over for today."

18       Prince Li's forecaster was analyzing a map. His pencil danced upon the weather map. His forecasts had always been faultless.
      "I am astonished!" the Prince exclaimed. "Your technique is faultless!"
      "Technique?" said the Master, turning from his map. "What I follow is Tao -- beyond all techniques! When I first began to forecast, I would see before me the atmosphere on separate charts. After three years, I no longer saw this. Instead, I saw the atmosphere blended together from all of the different charts, combined in three dimensions within my mind, and compared against the numerical models. Now I see nothing. My whole being exists in a formless void. My senses are idle. My spirit, free to work without a plan, follows its own instinct while I put pencil to paper and sift through all the charts. In short, my forecast produces itself. True, sometimes there are difficult problems. I see them coming, I slow down, I watch silently. Then I focus, use all of the tools available to me, and the difficulties vanish like puffs of idle smoke. I then complete the forecast. I sit still and let the joy of the work fill my being. I close my eyes for a moment and then go home."
      Prince Li said, "If only all of my forecasters were as wise!"

19       The Novice held up a chart for the Master. He said, "This ETA chart shows that the CAPE over here will be quite large, but I do not understand this, because the dryline should mix rapidly eastward."
      The Master disappeared and came back with a glass of iced tea for the Novice. "This is to help you think."
      The Novice bowed deeply, took the tea, and sipped it. He looked at it, thought, and sipped it again. He said, "Master, did you sweeten my drink with saccharin?"
      "Ah, Student. Your senses tell you that it is not sugar! Is it not good?"
      "Yes, Master, it is good. It is very much like sugar and sweetens my drink nicely."
      "And like your ETA chart, it is one of the best substitutes for nature that humans have been able to devise."
      The Novice looked at his chart and suddenly was enlightened.

20       A well-used door needs no oil on its hinges.
      These are the truths of the Tao of Forecasting.

21       When a forecaster computes stability indices, he sees the sounding within man-made constructs.
      Truly, this is not the Tao of Forecasting.
      When a forecaster studies the sounding, he sees the underlying form.
      Truly, this is the Tao of Forecasting.

22       Computer met Capitalist on the road to Changtse. Computer said: "You are Yin and I am Yang. Together we will find Tao, redefine the science of forecasting, and obtain vast sums of funding."
      And so they set forth together, thinking to conquer the world.
      Presently, they met Hand Analyzed Chart, who was dressed in tattered rags and hobbled along propped on a thorny stick. Hand Analyzed Chart said to them: "I have seen Tao, and it lies beyond Yin and Yang. It is silent and still as a pool of water. It does not seek money; therefore nobody knows its presence. It does not seek to teach, for those only those who desire it can find it. It does not seek enlightenment, for it is complete within itself. It exists beyond space and time."
      Computer and Capitalist, ashamed, returned to their homes.

Copyright ©2002 Tim Vasquez

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