Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Access Blizzard

Welcome to the new and improved Birnbaum Interpreting Services blog, written by yours truly.

Yes, it’s true, we provide nationwide communications access service. Onsite sign language, spoken language, VRI, CART – heck, it’s all on this website, go check it out! But it’s also true that BIS was born and raised in the DC metro area. So pardon me if I take a moment and bow my head for the latest snowpacalypse, lurking late this week.

Okay moment over. But I bring this up because, as a communications access provider, we’re concerned about all the agencies we rely on for information access. Which is why BIS is proud to provide a quality service that can, as you all sure know, prove unreliable from other sources.

Speaking of unreliable: weather forecasting…I mean, is there any human science less accurate? It seems we know more about the extradimensional ways and wonders of our universe, light years away from our naked eye, than whether our front doorstep will be wet, white, or plain ’ole dry when we wake up. Sometimes it seems we might be better off observing animal behavior to get our forecast.

Yet this is also somewhat of a misconception. Similar to communications access providers, there are certain weather agencies you can rely on and certain agencies you can’t. And also similar to communications agencies, the problem is a lack of available information hat can decipher between the two.

BIS is a proud provider to over 20 government agencies. We don’t like to brag, but this is one of the best markers of quality assurance. To meet the criteria of government agencies, we have to have our service down to, as they say, a science.

So there should be no wonder that the most reliable and effective weather forecasting tool is the National Weather Service, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Department of Commerce (the NOAA was also BIS’ first big contract – no NWS, no BIS!).

Here’s a short version of how weather forecasting dissemination works: Supercomputer weather models run really complex algorithms that print out forecasts for precipitation types, totals, wind, you name it. These formulas would make your head fall off. Forecasters combine these model outputs with their own meteorological training to make forecasts – at least, this is what a real meteorologist does, since meteorology is far more than looking at data streams from a computer.

But most people get their information from, say, a weather application on their cell phone, which are often just automated forecasts with almost no specificity or nuance, and often based the generic point-and-click forecasts on, say, Or, they’ll get their forecasts from the news. Though there are great forecasters on the news (such as Bob Ryan of ABC 7, formerly of NBC 4), for every legitimate meteorologist, there’s five pretty faces with a mic, who regurgitate watered-down versions of what the computer models are saying, without a meteorological interpretation of those forecasts.

This is where the unreliability of weather forecasting gets exaggerated. Just like with communications access service, reliability is completely dependent on your source. So for those of you in the DC metro area, or Mid-Atlantic in general, here’s a tip: Go to the NWS site and type in your zip code. Near the top of the page is where watches and warnings are posted. For my zip, there’s already a blizzard warning posted. Click on these warnings, which give a detailed scientific analysis of what to expect for the snowstorm this weekend.

For the real weather nerds, there are a couple other reliable options. For the DC area specifically, check out the Capital Weather Gang, which features a fastidious team who offers a far more detailed and probabilistic forecast than most generic sites and apps. You can also find several of the CWG’s crew ‘trolling’ on the American Weather Forum. Go to the AWF, click on your region of the US, and you’ll be provided a list of threads for upcoming storms, which include meteorologists and hobbyists interpreting the latest model outputs. Yet be aware: lots of jargony speak on the AW Forum, and while they may have the latest, it’s also the most liable to change, and you sometimes you have to sift a bit of sand to find gold.

The quality of your information is completely dependent on your source, and how you use those sources. That’s why BIS doesn’t only boast a quality service. We also have a vast network of associates and colleagues to make sure that any small cracks are quickly caulked and shored up. This is why over 20 government agencies rely on us.

Have a great rest of the week, and be sure to keep an eye to the skies