Your average storm…

June 2, 2009

180 words
3 September 2008
The Times
Times2 5
English
(c) 2008 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved

The average person has one breast and one testicle. But, outside the darker imaginings of the internet, it is hard to find such a person. Averages are not always useful. As with body parts, so with rain. According to The Express’s Saturday front page, “10 days of rain”, 55mm, would fall last Sunday – quite a deluge. A natural assumption about averages is that they fall in the middle, but that is not true with rain. The distribution is asymmetric: the lowest amount of rain in a day is bounded by zero, while the highest is essentially unlimited. The Met Office says there are only 150 to 200 days of rain each year, so even on the average rainy day, two days of rain fall. In fact, the Met expects summer thunderstorms that exceed (for short periods) 100mm of rainfall an hour. Misunderstandings about averages put an average August storm on the front of a national paper.

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