The illusion of control in watching the weather

We watch the weather every night. We have multiple apps or websites that we check, then we compare and contrast. I think it gives us the illusion that we can control something that is far out of our hands.

Jenny Schlecht's family checks out a field of sorghum-sudangrass and millet a couple days after rain refreshed the outlook for the forage crop. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

The leaves on the good fields of sorghum are starting to turn brown, my husband told me a few weeks ago, and the other fields are barely out of the ground.

It had been pretty dry for a couple months in central North Dakota where we live. It’s been good haying weather but not so good for the new crops. That’s a strange thing to type after last year, when we had moisture aplenty, leading to huge amounts of forage but almost no days in which it could be cut and baled.

This year, there was plenty of subsoil moisture going into planting, and small, timely amounts of rain seemed to be keeping things growing right away. That is, until the rain stopped. So the good, earlier planted fields of sorghum sudangrass and millet had grown several feet while the more recently planted ones, on grounds that were impossible to harvest last year, struggled to get out of the dirt.

But there was rain in the forecast, I reminded my husband.

He didn’t hold out much hope. There is an optimism that comes with farming — you have to think positively to put out large amounts of resources every year and wait to see what happens. But there’s also a pessimism. It’s the worst crop ever. It’ll never rain. I should be haying by now. I’m sure there’s disease out there. The cows are probably out. If you’ve ever talked to a farmer, you know what I’m talking about.


The pessimism comes out in full strength in regard to the forecast and meteorology in general. We watch the weather every night. We have multiple apps or websites that we check, then we compare and contrast. I think it gives us the illusion that we can control something that is far out of our hands.

The forecast, that time, came true. For us, it was almost perfect. We got a bit more than an inch in one big storm and smaller amounts in a couple little ones. The leaves on the sorghum are green again, and the less mature fields are looking a bit more promising. The corn is growing, and things are looking OK.

I did get to feel a little smug the other day. I had an important interview planned, and as I traveled, the sky to the west was growing dark and heavy.

“It’s not supposed to get bad until 1, and there isn’t anything close on the radar,” I told myself.

I spent a couple hours learning about crop conditions, and it wasn’t until the very end that a few raindrops started to hit my face. I smiled to myself as I left, proud that I had been correct to not call off the interview in light of the rain in the forecast.

But then I made a quick stop to run an errand on the way home. I parked far from the entrance, thinking nothing of those blue clouds and the sporadic sprinkles.

By the time I came out, not long after, the sprinkles had turned into a steady rain, nearly a downpour. It wasn’t quite 1 p.m. But the rain comes when it comes, and constant attention to the forecast won’t change that. I drove home feeling like I had run through the sprinkler.

Even though we can’t control it, that doesn’t mean we’ll stop watching the radar every time we see a cloud a little darker than normal. I think we just like to hold onto that little illusion of control, even when we end up soaked more often than not.


Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at or 701-595-0425.

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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