Vinay Menon: The firing of two Hungarian meteorologists over a wrong forecast signals a political superstorm ahead

Hungary’s Parliament building is illuminated to mark the national holiday celebrating St. Stephen’s Day. Two meteorologists were fired after wrongly predicting a storm, which led to fireworks being cancelled.
Hungary’s Parliament building is illuminated to mark the national holiday celebrating St. Stephen’s Day. Two meteorologists were fired after wrongly predicting a storm, which led to fireworks being cancelled.

Is there a more thankless job than meteorologist?

If a weather forecast is accurate, it doesn’t register. Nobody is grateful. It is taken for granted. But when a forecast is wrong we lose our minds. We blame meteorologists for the weather: That bastard on the morning news said it would be 30 degrees with sunny skies and I just got drenched by a freak thunderstorm while picking up Chinese takeout on Spadina.

But the civilized world always understood the rules of engagement. Meteorologists rely upon atmospheric sensors and complex radar data. They track variables in constant flux. Mistakes are inevitable.

In Canada, we complain about the weather.

But in Hungary, it’s the weather people who are now complaining.

On Monday, in a move that should send a chinook down the spines of scientists everywhere, the country fired its top two meteorologists. Why? A botched forecast. Hungary’s National Meteorological Service had predicted a severe storm on Saturday in Budapest. This triggered the cancellation of national holiday fireworks for St. Stephen’s Day. Then the storm deviated course, as storms often do. The weather in Budapest remained serene.

And, suddenly, the real storm became political.

As the Associated Press reported: “The fired weather service chief, Kornelia Radics, had served in her post since 2013 and her deputy, Gyula Horvath, since 2016. While the minister did not provide a reason for the dismissals, the meteorological service had received harsh criticism in Hungary’s government-aligned media, which charged that the service’s “gravely wrong” forecast had caused a needless postponement of the fireworks display.

It’s as if we tarred and feathered Dave Phillips after he wrongly predicted an early spring. Hungary’s weather service analyzed the data this weekend and arrived at a probability in good faith. Yes, it turned out to be wrong. And they apologized. That’s where the story should have ended.

We can’t expect our meteorologists to operate with 100 per cent accuracy any more than we should expect punctuality from Canada Post. That’s madness, especially in this age of climate change. How many times have you heard recently about a once-in-a-century heat wave or a once-in-1,000-years flood or an unprecedented high-pressure system over the Atlantic?

Extreme weather has become the norm.

And that makes it extremely difficult to forecast.

My wife and I took the kids to the Dundurn Castle in Hamilton last summer. We are on a quest to expand their horizons, to introduce as much Canadian history as possible. I won’t lie to you. It’s not really taking. They were bored out of their skulls. But that’s beside the point. When we ambled into this castle, it was so hot outside, it felt like my sandals were melting. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Then before the tour was over, as we stood in what was once the bedroom of Sir Allan Napier MacNab, the sky suddenly darkened and the rain started coming down sideways with such force, it sounded like the 40-room villa was getting shelled with gunfire.

What’s weird is the weather app on my phone called for no rain that afternoon. It was like a precipitation surprise party!

So how did we get to the point where science itself is a political hot potato?

Dr. Anthony Fauci just announced he will be retiring in December after serving under seven U.S. presidents and nearly 40 years as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Fauci is not just one of the world’s leading experts on contagion. His reputation was also infected during the pandemic as the right morphed him into a sinister bogeyman, a fat cat bureaucrat and animating force behind masks, lockdowns and vaccines. There are Americans out there who see no qualitative difference between Dr. Fauci and Satan.

I know because I’ve heard from many of them.

Kevin McCarthy, the terminal halfwit and cravenly ambitious Teddy Ruxpin of partisan politics, has vowed to investigate Fauci should the GOP take control of the U.S. House of Representatives later this year. Good luck.

What Mr. McCarthy wants to investigate is not clear. But you can be sure Dr. Fauci didn’t illegally squirrel away more than 700 classified documents in his home lab. McCarthy and his fellow travellers in the MAGA cult don’t care about actual treason – they just lust for starring roles in political theatre.

Did Dr. Fauci get some things wrong, just like the Hungarian meteorologists? Sure. But this was a novel coronavirus. It was new. We were all learning in real time. Did his commitment to public health and safety ever waver? Absolutely not. He just kept trying to do what was right, even as he was enduring death threats and revolting smears from rightwing jackasses like Tucker Carlson, who probably has a photo of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán in his wallet. Do you see the link and where this is going?

Those who are unduly hard on science are also soft on democracy. Those who are first to condemn infectious disease specialists or meteorologists do so as a pretext to ultimately replace science with political objectives.

So I salute you, Dr. Fauci.

And you, wrongly fired Hungarian meteorologists.

Science is not a gospel. It is not ironclad. Science is a work in human progress, a system of theories and expectations that must be constantly tested and retested. Science is our best shot at a better tomorrow.

Pushing it into the realm of politics is a superstorm we won’t survive.

Vinay Menon is the Star’s pop culture columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @vinaymenon

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