Cloudy with a Chance of Haze
An online weatherman puts the personal back in forecasting.
By Anna Patchefsky
Weather-wise, April 12, 2023 was unbeatable. The temperatures were in the high 70s with partly cloudy skies. There was a low dew point and a light breeze. “That’s it. It’s perfect. The vibes are immaculate!!” reported the viral account @nymetrowx on the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Before signing off, John Homenuk—a meteorologist and weather consultant who has become something of an influencer with @nymetrowx—admonished his audience: “The lack of photos so far is mildly concerning.” He also excused all New Yorkers from attending any job, function, or event that afternoon. They would be spending time outdoors, not to be contacted or disturbed by the demands of their lives.
Weather-wise, June 7, 2023 was precipitous. The temperatures were in the high 70s with some reduced visibility. The sky darkened throughout the day as the smoke blocked out the sun, causing the temperature to drop. “The vibes are…sort of surreal out there,” admitted Homenuk. Successive posts explain New York’s descent into photo-filter dystopia.
Over the summer, the Columbia Emergency Management system reiterated an air quality alert for the New York City region. With a thick plume of smoke from Canadian wildfires drifting southward to the city, the air quality in New York would, in the following days, become the worst on the planet. With an AQI surpassing the “hazardous” designation at 480 parts per million, the University advised caution for all outdoor activities and encouraged the use of N95s when outside.
Homenuk, with tanned skin, frosted tips, and a gold chain necklace, is a true weatherman, well-equipped to calmly guide his viewers through a summer of looming abnormalities. And there are visuals. In a wide-angle shot across the Hudson River, One World Trade Center is invisible. The sky is the same color as the base path at Yankee Stadium. And from my camera roll, the high vaulted windows in Butler Cafe peer into a bright orange sky.
In a two-minute video, Homenuk, behind the camera and equipped with an appropriately urgent cadence, explains why the sky has enveloped the city. As the wildfires burn, their smoke is lofted into the jetstream. Vertical mixing forces the air down closer to the surface, casting New York in a visual obfuscation.
Meteorology relies on a diverse array of technology in order to make predictions: satellites, radar, formulas, and computer simulations. Different weather models may each produce different weather readings. Forecasts go awry, however, when meteorologists use just one model or algorithm. Apple’s weather app is consistently criticized for being faulty and unreliable for this very reason: problems arise when data is pushed without human interpretation to qualify the caveats and reflect the range of possibilities offered by a probability. By design, weather apps generally ignore the crucial human component of a reliable forecast.
When asked by Caitlin Lent of Interview Magazine if weather is a feeling or a science, Homenuk confidently replied, “Both.” Anticipating another top-tier weather day, Homenuk writes, “Source: Me.” His tweets proceed like a confession. He tosses his hands in the air as he admits the uncertainty and defeat of human forecasting: Even the weatherman isn’t right all the time. As Homenuk tells Lent, there’s a difference between knowing the weather and knowing what the weather is going to be like. New Yorkers don’t actually want to know how many inches of snow will be on the ground; they just want to know whether or not they will have to wear their Uggs.
In the morning, I check Apple’s pre-installed weather app and then turn to Homenuk’s posts. This is a routine that is not merely a display of choreographed neuroticism, but also a shy testament to the fact that a holistic forecast requires human interpretation.
There’s a famous scene in That ’70s Show where Mila Kunis’s Jackie complains that she is cold. Instead of giving her his jacket, Ashton Kutcher’s Kelso replies, “Well damn, Jackie. I can’t control the weather!” Jackie almost smiles at Kelso’s discourtesy. She did not want the leather jacket—just an acknowledgment of shared human experience.
Like Jackie, we New Yorkers are forced to share the weather, but ours is increasingly bizarre and unpredictable. @Nymetrowx succeeds in putting humanity back into weather. Weather generally exists as a sanitized visual phenomenon, but Homenuk preserves the weather's natural position as a conversational, subjective experience. When climate change renders us speechless, we can still talk about the weather.