fbpx Unpredictability | The Morton Arboretum


This is one of the frog art installations up around the Arboretum. He reminds me of the feeling of peacefulness that is important in work and in life.

Today, we started our 6th week here at the Arboretum, which means that we are pretty much exactly half way through our projects. With only five more weeks to complete our project, the deadlines start to loom larger and larger on the horizon. Considering we have to submit our abstracts and have our posters finalized midway through the second to last week, we technically only have three and a half more weeks for data collection and analysis.


What is even more stressful is that there are so many factors in my project that are unpredictable, which makes it difficult to formulate a solid schedule for myself. I am still not sure how much data I will be able to collect and still have ample time to figuring out what it all means.


Part of the unpredictability is the weather. The forecast is almost never accurate. One time Quinn and I checked the forecast for the area and it said that it was going to be thunderstorming all day, so we decided to stay inside. But it never rained a drop that day and was actually kind of sunny out.


Scattered clouds stretching across a small lake with an vibrant green island across the water
Rain? More like another gorgeous day in the Chicago area!
Alison McGarigal


Another time, Lane and I checked the forecast and it looked clear for a couple hours. So we packed the gear, went out to the car, and drove to the area where my plots were. As we approached the parking lot, we both looked at the dark clouds rushing towards us from the west. We stopped at the parking lot and looked at the radar again, and within the fifteen minutes it took us to pack up our gear and drive out to the plots, a storm to our west had formed and was coming straight over us. So we decided to abandon our mission of getting a couple of plots done and head straight back to the research center, only to find that it passed us in a matter of minutes. It looked much more menacing that it turned out to be, as it left behind dry grounds and clear skies.


As you might be able to tell by now, we have learned not to trust the weather predictions. It’s actually so bad that the weather apps will say that it is currently raining outside and it is completely dry, or it will say it is clear and it will be raining. To cut the weathermen some slack, I am amazed that we can predict the weather at all. From my brief introduction to weather systems in school, it seems like there are a million factors that affect the weather, and all of these factors can change within a matter of minutes.


Anyways, since we kept deciding to not go out in the field due to predicted storms, just to find it never actually reaching us, we decided to change our strategy and go out to the field unless it was currently storming or it looked like the sky was just about let loose.


However, that strategy hasn’t really worked for us either. Lane and I were working in the field one afternoon, and the prediction said it might rain around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, but we decided to carry on with our plot anyways. We were using our lasers to measure the distances and the sizes of the trees in one of our plots when we noticed a pitter patter sound coming from the leaves above. We were only two thirds through the plot, so we decided to ignore it. Then I heard a crack of thunder in the distance, and we decided to pick up the pace incase the sky decided to open up on us. As we worked, we could hear the pitter patter of rain in the distance turn into a rush of sound that came closer and closer until it was downpouring on us. I was manning the lasers (which are “water resistant” but considering how expensive they are, we didn’t want to push it too much). Luckily I was under a fairly dense canopy and hardly felt the rain at all. But we both looked at each other in disbelief and frantically tried to take down the lasers and get everything into our bags to bolt to the safety of the car down the road.


Needless to say, we realized that day that you can’t completely trust or distrust weather reports.


A young woman looking through a yellow and black laser device attached to a tripod next to another young women surrounded by dense green vegetation
Our laser set up. We had to scramble to disassemble it in the rain once!
Kirsten McGarigal


I have also come to the realization that good science takes time. It is borderline crazy to expect to be able to complete a full research project from conception to finish in a mere ten weeks. There are so many obstacles that you run into that you have to figure out how to deal with or navigate around. Little things always happen that cause delays in your schedule, from weather, to misplacing or forgetting equipment, to accidentally changing the units on the laser to feet and inches instead of meters and centimeters which meant having to remeasure half of a plot... But that is all just part of the process of science, part of the whims and woes of life! Sometimes you have to take a deep breath, calm your mind, and push through the unpredictable. I know that in the end, no matter what type of conclusions I am able to come up with for my project, I will have had such a powerful, eye-opening experience that will shape the type of scientist and the type of person I am developing into.


Till next week,