Reading the weather page

An important part of training young minds is modeling a healthy skepticism.

Today’s weather column in the Star Tribune included the following observation:

Minnesota is nippy during the winter…but we don’t have to stress about tsunamis, volcanoes or hurricanes. Since 2005, Minnesota has experienced about a third as many billion-dollar weather disasters as Texas.

I read this over my morning coffee and then turned to Griffin (10), who was munching on his toasted bagel.

Me: What would you say is the relationship between the area of Minnesota and the area of Texas?

Griffin (10 years old): Texas is bigger.

Me: Right. But how much bigger? Half again as big? Twice as big? Three times? More?

G: Twice as big, I guess.

Me: And what about the population?

G: Well, Minnesota is 5 thousand, so I’d say twice as many people in Texas.

I know that he knows it’s 5 million not 5 thousand. No need to correct this. I am just happy he has the population of our home state as a benchmark he can use to understand other things.

We turn to the Internet for help. My first instinct is Google. But then I remember Wolfram Alpha. One carefully formulated search later and we had learned that one-third as many large-scale disasters is exactly what we should expect here in Minnesota in comparison to Texas. We are not more fortunate; we are just smaller.

The area of Texas is 3.09 times as great as the area of Minnesota.

2 thoughts on “Reading the weather page

  1. Very cool – thank you for the WolframAlpha tool. Another great weather inspired math conversation came in my family when my eldest son noticed the New York Times weather graphics. They are an incredibly elegant tool that visually shows trends, averages, records, predicted high lows and range of predictions. We find something to talk about every day.

  2. Math in weather reporting is interesting; not sure if it is true, but I heard about a weather reporter who supposedly said “there’s a 50% chance of rain Saturday, and a 50% chance of rain Sunday, so there’s a 100% chance of rain this weekend.”

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