Whither Weather 2

A massive global industry keeps this mass of equipment in check and uses the data that it pulls in. In the US, some 5,600 people work for the National Weather Service, analyzing some 19 million weather observations each year, and creating some 2 million forecasts and weather warnings.

Tracking the weather. Feeding our obsession.

Yet, many of us believe that, despite all the equipment, those forecasters still can’t get it right. As yourself: when was the last time you complained about a forecast? If you are like most people, it was sometime within the last 24 hours.

The weather industry argues that in fact it has a pretty good track record. Last October, a spokesperson for Environment Canada told the Calgary Sun that its predictions are accurate 70 to 95 per cent of the time. (The interview followed a barrage of complaints about a freak storm that nobody had seen coming.)

It’s the other 15 to 20 per cent of the time that infuriates us.

Tomorrow

Will weather forecasting ever be accurate? In a word, no.

According to an article in USA Today, many meteorologists say that while one-day forecasts are now 83 per cent accurate, and two-day forecasts are right about 72 per cent of the time, things still get really rotten after the five-day mark. By then, expect accuracy of only 40 to 60 per cent.

Many of them believe the numbers will never improve.

The last few years of El Ni–o / La Ni–a phenomena have taught them the tremendous impact of ocean warmth on global weather patterns. With the oceans making up such a great percentage of the earth’s surface, they can change weather quite quickly and dramatically (as well as over the longer term).

Of course, this challenge isn’t holding them back from trying to learn more and do better. Long-term, large-scale forecasting may remain difficult, but there is now great excitement about micro-forecasting: that is, trying to predict the weather for an area as small as 10 square kilometres for the next few hours.

This kind of information, meteorologists believe, will be a major trend because it is of such value to farmers, organizers of outdoor events and other areas and industries needing pinpoint information.


But no matter what forecasters do, we will probably continue to groan and grumble. The problem is, we are dealing with a field of scientific endeavour that will never be able to deliver the perfect accuracy we crave.