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Balboa Talk, Bastardi-Style: You Must Get Up after a Forecast Knocks You Down

on April 19, 2011 6:00 AM

But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. —Rocky Balboa to his son in “Rocky VI”

Of the entire “Rocky” series, I love “Rocky VI” the best. I think you have to be a father to appreciate what was going on in that part of the movie. In the end, a lot of winning is just a case of last man standing, the one who is willing to fight to the very end.

Now that I am a father, I can appreciate lessons that my father taught me. I am writing this on his birthday, Sunday, April 17, although you won’t read it till April 19. But I am going to hook the weather and that lesson together here, and also see how a relatively recent occurrence in one of my forecasts had my dad giving me nearly the same advice as Rocky gave his son.

So I wanted to frame what I am writing here with these ideas. Because I am going to talk about a big case when I changed a correct forecast and made it wrong (got knocked down), but wound up doing better because of it.

Ivan (2004) is the example. I was on national TV talking about another storm that was on the charts at the time, but made sure I let the audience know that a then-shapeless mass of clouds east of the Windward Islands would be “Ivan the Terrible" within a couple of days, and would be a threat to the U.S. in seven to 10 days. The storm developed, and from almost 10 days out, I targeted the Gulf of Mexico between Pensacola and New Orleans for a hit.

I kept that forecast until Saturday morning, Sept. 11. It was the day of the 2004 Mr. America. I was competing, and when I got up in the morning, all of the storm tracks were alarmingly far east of mine, which was at Moblie. This graphic shows the Tropical Prediction Center forecast for Ivan at 5 a.m. Sept. 11.

Now before I go on let me say that it is no one’s fault but my own that after having the same forecast for over a week, one that was better than the storm tracks that had been east (including some earlier that had taken the storm to where Charley had hit earlier in southwest Florida), that I moved it. I changed it from Mobile to the Florida coast midway between Mobile and where the Tropical Prediction Center had it. I went to the Mr. America prejudging after updating all of my clients from the hotel room. I returned happy because I was in contention in my class.

And then I took a look at the new model runs, which had returned to my initial forecast.

Now, let me say this. I will come up with a forecast idea and keep it without changing it until the day before. In my opinion, if you work for a forecast, you should keep it—as opposed to changing it every few hours, and then trying to claim you were right about the one out of a dozen you made that hit.

So I am stubborn, and in most cases it has served me well, because I did the work to stand my ground.

In the case of Ivan, I kept it, in spite of models all over the place. But I ultimately changed it, and, to me, that took away all the positives of what I did. I was sick. The contest I had trained for a year suddenly meant nothing. As far I was concerned I threw away the entire storm. Far better if I had been wrong all along and then changed it, and had to change it back.

But the worst feeling you can have is abandoning a position you fought to formulate, change, it, and then have the original forecast idea be right! A forecast is not just a forecast to me; it’s the only forecast, and there is a chance it may be the last one I make. I believe that as sure as the sun comes up in the east.

I did not win the Mr. America contest. But at that level, placing as high as I did that year was great. I could have hardly cared less. I called home to talk to my dad on my way back from the show and started crying on his shoulder about changing the forecast

You know what I got? A tough Italian’s talk to his son—Bastardi-, not Balboa-, style.

Basically he told me to quit whining and stop feeling sorry for myself or I would miss the next chance at a great forecast. He wasn’t being cruel or nasty, just being a good dad.

Neither of my parents were “enablers” in matters such as this.

Ivan went inland near Mobile Wednesday night, Sept. 15. On Saturday night, I appeared on “The Heartland” show with the now-governor of Ohio, John Kasich.

The storm caused tremendous rains here Friday night into Saturday. It moved right over Andy Villecco’s wedding on the beach in Avalon (Andy’s father is former wrestler Jerry Villecco, and I warned the family) and over the water southeast of Atlantic City, moving south after being over land for three days.

At that time it had been downgraded. Anyway, on national TV, I forecasted that it would come all the way back around into the Gulf after crossing Florida and become a storm again. (Kasich got in my face about it on the air.)

One of my best friends thought I had lost my mind or was smoking something funny to come up with that forecast, yet alone say it on national TV.

By Wednesday night, Sept. 22, here is what happened:

The storm came back. But I would not have been able to forecast that if I hadn’t been knocked on my can (even if it was for only a few hours, and still three days before the first hit), because I wouldn’t have received the “getting-hit-and-getting-back-up-again” talk from my dad.

But the point is you have to get back up if you want to compete.   

I have come out swinging on this hurricane season as far hits on the U.S. coast, comparing it to the high U.S. impact season of 2008, even though the total numbers will be down compared to last year. Why? Well, one of the reasons is because last year, when I came out in February with 16-18 (there were 19), I simply took the normal ratio of total storms to U.S. impact as that part of the forecast. When storms avoided the U.S. coast last year, I spent the whole winter digging into why.

I set up a series of ideas I wanted to see happen this spring, and they are happening. In fact, the avoidance of the coast last year, if I am right about this year, means yet another crucial piece of a U.S. impact-forecasting method I have been working on for years. And it took a less-than-ideal impact forecast from last year to force me to find the idea that I think will make this season's forecast a great one!

That idea, by the way, is the linkage between the Atlantic Ocean in its warm state (as it was in the '30s through '50s) and the overall North American climate pattern and hurricane hits. It was put into my head when I was a kid by my dad, who is a degreed meteorologist from Texas A&M.

He grew up the last time the weather was warmer and hurricanes were hitting the coast with the kind of frequency they have had since the mid ‘90s. And I am not shy about saying that these ideas on forecasting, which would have high impact on our coast and which wouldn’t have been in my head since I was a kid.

Unfortunately, when the Atlantic was in its cold state, in the '60s through '80s, I couldn’t see it like I can now. So many times I see things in the weather now that I was told about when I was a kid, and it really supplies a linkage, both in my field and in seeing what my dad was seeing, except he did not have the benefits of the kind of technology we have today. I make no secret of the fact that I am always trying to measure up to my predecessors in the field.

Funny, today is dad’s birthday. Yet every time he or my mom have a birthday, I think it’s me who is still getting a gift—from them.

One of the best ones I got was learning that if you want to be last man standing, you gotta keep getting back up.


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