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.