Weather And Chaos

Chaotic Scattering

“Whenever two or more people are gathered together, one thing for sure, they’ll talk about the weather.”

The above quote is one that I have used for many years. I’m unsure if I heard it and then repeated it, or if I actually created it.  I really don’t know, but it has become a part of my “speech.”  When two or more people are together, no matter what the relationship – strangers, family, colleagues, passengers, etc. – there invariably seems to be a few statements made about the weather.

Some say the weather is a subject that everyone has in common.  None of us have control over it so therefore we can all talk about it without having to take any ownership for the weather event.  Yes, I suppose there is a lot of truth in that point of view.

But, what is it about the weather?   What is it about volcanic eruptions?  About all of the happenings that we call “mother nature” or chaotic, unpredictable events.  I have in the past studied nonlinear dynamical systems.  In general, Chaos Theory.  So?????

Well, one of the statements I have retained from that study is, “there is order in chaos and chaos in order.”  So for example, the weather is a nonlinear dynamical system.  Can we predict the weather?  Yes and no.  What does that mean?

The date that I am writing this sentence is 1/15/09 and I’m in St. Louis, Missouri.  I can predict that tomorrow will not be a hot day outside.  I can predict that the maximum temperature will not be above 70 degrees.  I know that if by some freakish accident the temperature does reach 70 degrees tomorrow that there is no way for it to remain that way.  There is a “strange attraction” for the temperature to be cold in the winter and warm in the summer.  That is one example of the order in the chaos of weather.

And, the chaos in order?  Well, consider the effects of a hurricane on the weather in its path.  During the summer or fall here in the US, we can have a storm such as a hurricane change our weather from an “orderly day” to a chaotic mess.  Chaos within order.  Poor examples, perhaps, but still I hope you get the point.  We love and generally need to have something in common that no one is responsible for in order to start a conversation, especially with a stranger.

“Sure is cold out today.”  “Are you keeping warm?”  “Do you think it’s going to rain today?”  “Has it started to rain yet?”  “Did you bring this hot weather with you?” All typical statements used by us to “break the ice.”  (no pun intended:-)

Look at how the weather is handled in our media.  We have a lot of time and effort expended toward predicting the outcome of this chaotic system known has “weather.” Yet, no matter how much we try, we cannot predict with 100% accuracy.  But, we can sure talk about it!

Whenever two or more people are gathered together, they can and often will talk about the weather.  :-)

What do you think?