The Storm is Coming
Herbert sipped his coffee. He enjoyed weekends immensely. They were perfect to decompress from the relentless pandemic noise that was impossible to escape in his open-plan office. And, he used his “off days” wisely. The surprising thing was that he never left his house. In fact, he never left his basement.
“Eggs are ready!” His wife, Lisa, yelled down the stairs.
“This is easily my best invention. In fact, I would say it’s ground-breaking,” Herbert said, munching his toast.
Lisa rolled her eyes. “That’s fabulous, dear. Have you found anything interesting to show me yet?”
“I’m testing a new idea later today. Take a rain check and get back to me,” he replied with a wink. “The big networks only predict 14 days in advance with any accuracy. I’m going to leave them in the dust.” He fidgeted, unable to contain his excitement.
Day turned to night. The whole neighborhood was now asleep, and Herbert still hadn’t left the basement. His eyes were as large as the full moon as he stared at his computer screen. He examined the data and double-checked the timeframe. It was the furthest ahead he’d ever tried to project: 26 weeks from now. He pressed Enter. When the result appeared on a map, he thought he might faint.
“This is incredible if it’s true,” he thought, scanning through the findings. “It certainly made sense. Insurance companies had dubbed it ‘Hail Alley.’ That was where Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska touch. This might not be an error at all.”
He anxiously re-entered the data and checked the results again. He got the same answer. To back up the map, the human-like voice generator used its most professional tone: “Severe hailstorms likely across Wyoming exactly 6 months from today.” Herbert whistled in surprise.
He messaged his brother, Bill, who was always fascinated by Herbert’s weekend work. Bill was a successful real estate agent, so he never really had weekends. It was all work. He blearily examined Herbert’s screenshots and felt a definite tingling that only salespeople understood. There was something here. There was definitely something.
Herbert entered his latest findings on his website’s blog page and slipped quietly into bed, trying not to disturb Lisa. He sighed, feeling satisfied but unnerved by the day’s outcome.
The next morning, he checked his blog page for comments left by his fellow weather enthusiasts. “Fantastic! I wonder how far into the future it can go while still staying precise. Your previous predictions have been correct every time. I simply cannot doubt you any longer,” wrote @sorryiruinedyourweekend. “I agree. What happens in 12 months? Should I sell my house now and move to Australia. I live in Cheyenne,” winked @barometric_nerds_unite.
Herbert didn’t need to be asked twice. He had woken in the middle of the night thinking the same thing. Projecting 12 months from now was a mind-blowing ask. He organized the data, pressed Enter and waited.
The results loaded onto the map as he took a sip of his morning coffee. He almost choked, burning his mouth, and spilling a good portion on his pants.
“Lunacy!” he whispered under his breath.
The severe hailstorm was still there, but it was now massive, stretching over 2,000 miles from San Francisco to Chicago. “If this prediction is correct. It would be the largest, most destructive hailstorm ever recorded. The amount of damage to people, livestock, property, livelihoods, and confidence will be staggering. It would cost tens of billions of dollars.
“Maybe, it’s a coding error” Herbert thought.
He wasn’t the first person to try to predict weather far in advance. There were many and they used an incredible variety of techniques. One of his buddies online had built software that looked at the weather on the date one month from now for the past 30 years, computed the average, which he then used as his prediction. Even that was hit and miss. Herbert, however, was a coding genius, and had amassed a million times more data, collected from all over the world. He merged them all with hundreds of weightings until they created a single prediction. He did it all in his basement on those “off days” on the weekend. His secret software and predictive algorithms put him in an elite category of inventors.
After hours of testing various dates. He concluded it was indeed the worst-case scenario. He uploaded his findings online with the title “My experimental weather predictor has a success rate of 100%. It says the mother of all storms is on its way.” Then, he went to bed feeling uneasy.
He was shaken awake a few hours later. Lisa was standing over him. “You’re not going to believe this. There was a local news crew at the front door. Cameras and lights. I told them you weren’t available right now. Get up and explain to me what is going on.”
As Herbert dressed, he said: “I’ll find out.”
Then he hurried down to the basement to check his website. Last night’s post had gone viral, he had thousands of comments, with more pouring in at an alarming rate.
He checked his emails and could barely believe his eyes. The Office of the Under Secretary for Land, Air, and Water Affairs (LAWA) had reached out to him. Less than an hour later he was talking to a senior official of LAWA on a Zoom call.
Herbert interrupted a rather long and convoluted conversation. “So, wait! Are you saying you want to see what I have done with a view to buying my software?”
Afterwards, when Herbert told Lisa about the conference call, her mouth remained open but she could not speak.
The following week was filled with emails and Zoom meetings between Herbert and the LAWA as they negotiated. Herbert had called in his brother, Bill, to help with the talks. He was comfortable messaging about big numbers with powerful people. But, for the first time, even Bill whistled in astonishment when the size of the deal became apparent.
Every day, they would sit at Herbert’s computer and use Bill’s own secret software. They copy-pasted every email from LAWA and pressed Submit. MercurySays responded: “They are feeling assertive. So, tell them that speaking plainly is the path to success. Then, remind them that if everyone’s point of view is not clearly heard and understood, the results will be poor.”
Bill swore once then said: “Exactly! Let’s write that. We are getting close to sealing this deal. I can feel this baby is coming home.”
All thoughts of working during the week and playing with Herbert’s invention were thrown out the door. This was all day, every day. Who took any notice of weekends, anyway? Then the final Zoom call was made and, when it had finished, Herbert screamed so loudly that the birds in his backyard took flight.
Bill hugged Herbert: “They agreed. It wasn’t the number we wanted. But it was close enough!”
Lisa hugged Herbert and then Bill. Eventually, they all hugged each other.
So, what was the deal?
Herbert was to receive a consultancy fee of $100 million every year for the next 8 years. It was structured that way to avoid too much public prying.
After a couple of days, when the astonishing news settled in, Herbert called his brother to tell him that he’d had a great idea.
Bill tried to settle his nerves: “So, you are moving to Monaco and you’re buying a Bugatti Chiron?”
Herbert laughed: “No, I’m only interested in the Koenigsegg Jesko. It does nearly 300 miles an hour.” Then he became serious. “Now I’ve got a real budget, I want to build a laser powerful enough to evaporate the hail clouds before they cause any serious damage. It might even completely dissolve the storm. At least, a laser might be able to melt the hail into rain. I mentioned the idea to the guys at LAWA and they offered me a job. I thought that was pretty funny. What do I need a job for? I’ve already got one. Anyway, I like my basement and I don’t have to wear a mask. It’s best to lay low.”
Bill saw his chance: “Well, if I can help in any way, call me.”
Herbert tried to hold a straight face: “Oh, I don’t think I’ll need your services in the future. I could see that MercurySays did all the hard yards. You just tagged along following its instructions.”
Bill laughed aloud. He knew his brother’s jokes perfectly well. “Please don’t tell anyone. If they find out, I will lose my job.”
They kept the joke going like throwing around a hot potato until Herbert said: “Check your bank account in a couple of days and we’ll see if you want to keep your job.”
Then, Herbert grabbed his cup of coffee and headed back down to the basement, whistling happily as he disappeared into the darkness.