The National Weather Service yesterday released its official forecast for the coming winter. Donald Gilman, chief of the prediction branch of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicted -- with what he called "65 percent accuracy" -- that the East will be colder than normal and the West will be warmer than normal. He offered no prediction on temperatures for the middle of the country. (But why should we care? We don't live there.)
Gilman predicted coastal areas in the Northeast, Southeast and Northwest would be stormier than normal. He pointed out that precipitation forecasting carries only 55 percent accuracy. Gilman said that metropolitan D.C. residents "need to be prepared for a cold winter." He compared the coming winter to the winter of 1969-70 (remember that one, just a few months after Woodstock?) and said there should be "harsh conditions somewhere in the area, but we couldn't say where or when."
Well, the fact is that the people of Washington want to know exactly where and when.
And should Gilman & Co. be the last word on this matter? Especially considering his fall forecast was, by his own admission, "terrible . . . only 40 percent accurate . . . a real clinker." (And anyway, what kind of a weatherman can this Gilman be? He didn't even show a cake baked by the Ohio Jaycees, or talk about the 100th birthday of a woman in Flagstaff.)
So it was time to consult with the Weathermeister, a man who isn't afraid to go out on a limb, a man who, in fact, lives out on a limb, in a treehouse in Kensington, a man so amazingly accurate in his forecasts that the swallows call him up to find out if it's okay to come back to Capistrano. Introducing M.J. (for Mo-Jo) Durtt. And this is what M.J. has to say:
"I been rattlin' the raccoon bones, been polishin' the smooth stones, been listenin' to the geese groans and been considerin' the hormones, and what I got to say about this winter may cause you to think about leavin' these temperature zones. Gonna be cold, Bud. Gonna be so cold you'll wish you had fur instead of skin. We're talkin' about the kind of cold that when it comes time to take your dog out for a walk you just flip him five bucks and tell him to call a cab.
"On Dec. 9, the first snow will fall, and let me just say this -- you'd better stock up on canned goods before then because when this one finally stops the only people getting up and down Connecticut Avenue will be Jean-Claude Killy and Suzy Chapstick.
"Between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15 there will be 88 inches of snow in Washington; 29 inches will fall on Jan. 10 alone. The schools in Prince George's, Montgomery and Fairfax counties will not only be closed -- they will not even be seen again until April. Georgetown University will continue to be open, however, and students will get to class by hitching a ride on Patrick Ewing's shoulders.
"Beginning on Jan. 18, a record freeze will hit the area and for the next 24 days the temperature will never get higher than 25 degrees below zero. Forget what that is in Celsius. Also forget going to work, going shopping or even going outside. On Feb. 2 -- Groundhog Day -- a sacrifical groundhog will come out of his hole and immediately create a new concept in frozen food.
"All the people who think they have been really smart by stocking up on wood to burn in their fireplaces during the winter will be flat out of luck when they realize that wood stored outside has petrified. This in turn will cause people to start burning their own houses down in order to stay warm. People will also be so hungry that they will start eating all those disgusting things they have bought over the years, like those stale boxes of Fruit Loops and the tins ofpa te' that have been molding on the shelf so long you're afraid opening them will recreate the apocalyptic scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
"The worst day of the winter will be March 11. At high noon on that day the temperature will reach four degrees. People will think that spring has come. Thousands of them will rush to the closest Safeway or Giant to buy fresh food. The traffic jams will be so awful that when the 38-inch blizzard comes that night both Wisconsin and Massachusetts avenues will be turned into used-car lots.
"Spring will finally arrive on March 21, when it always does. And that day all the major airlines will announce a reduction in the round-trip air fare to Florida, to $198, down from their 'emergency winter rate' of $2,500 per person."
By the way, if M.J. is wrong, you can reach him any day, any time -- which is more than you can say for NOAA. Its telephone number, says Gilman, is unlisted.