It may still be February, but Philly is warming up with a wave of festivals, movies, and other exciting events surging our way — some are happening as early as this week. Speaking of warming up, we may have a warmer-than-usual week. With this winter’s weather being all over the place, we spoke with our weather expert Tony Wood to get a sense of how he covers our region. Hint: it’s not easy.

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A rainbow appears over the Ben Franklin Bridge after a rainstorm passed through Philadelphia.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
A rainbow appears over the Ben Franklin Bridge after a rainstorm passed through Philadelphia.

Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with Tony Wood, who has the job of trying to explain weather events. With Philly’s weather all over the place, we figured it’d be a good time to check in with Tony for some insight.

What makes covering weather exciting for you?

It’s almost as unpredictable as human behavior.

What are some challenges for weather experts that most readers don’t realize? (Aside from the natural unpredictability of the weather.)

Hard to know where to start, but the overarching problem is that the atmosphere is a nonlinear chaotic system that’s a gas that thinks it’s a liquid. As we’ve written, it’s 20-mile deep fluid tenuously clinging to a sphere spinning 1,000 miles an hour and hurtling through space at about 65,000 mph. I’ve heard its described as that of a drunk carrying a full bucket of water.

Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow. Is winter really over?

For the life of me, I don’t understand how Phil failed to cast a shadow with all those lights in his face, or how he could have missed it. I will say that he’s not a whole lot farther at sea than the humans who attempt long-range forecasting. You might have noticed they sometimes have trouble with the short-term forecasts. The fundamental problem is observation. Computer models have amazing things. Basically, a computer model considers the state of the atmosphere at present, compares it with how it looked six hours before, and tries to calculate how it will look six hours hence, then six more hours, on out in time. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to capture that initial state completely. For one thing, the atmosphere is three dimensional, and observations are sparser the higher up one goes; the surface is 70 percent water-covered; lesser-developed nations have higher priorities than sending up weather balloons, etc. I think it’s rather remarkable that forecasts can come so close. That said, I would never trust anything beyond five days.

If there’s one big thing you’ve learned about Philly in the time you’ve covered its weather, what would it be?

Oh, that’s quite an open-ended invitation, so I’ll confine my answer to the weather, and to keep it simpler, winter. Winters are like snowflakes in that they might look alike but all of them are amazingly different. I’ve never known a winter, or an individual storm, for that matter, to replicate. The amount of solar energy reaching the Earth is never exactly the same; the atmosphere is different at every instant. It’s always fascinating, and it’s a great place to live … most days.

You can stay in touch with Tony by following him on Twitter at @woodt15 or by email at twood@inquirer.com.

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Comment of the week

Jeff, a heartfelt human interest story from a writer who experienced all AR brought to Philadelphia. His emotion post-game in the last minutes demonstrated it all. Well done.There are those who have posted here, during the time AR was the Eagles HC, about his lack of compassion, hated on him for how he went back to work two days after his son’s death, thought he incapable of emotion, and an incapable father. It continues below. None of that was anyone’s business. And that hate was indirectly experienced by his family - since he is a public figure. It isn’t reasonable, charitable, nor gracious. Since we are doing Latin today - well played CSquare - here’s my offering: “ego vadam ad gratiam dei et non.” Think about it. — 24sreborn, on For the Reid family, Andy’s first Super Bowl win was for late son, Garrett.

Your Daily Dose of | The Upside

Philly’s Hub of Hope began offering free laundry service in 2017 after they asked their users what services were most needed by people experiencing homelessness. “Showers and laundry” was a common answer and now the service has become a welcomed relief for those experiencing homelessness.