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Old 12-10-2013, 02:48 PM
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Weather forecasting: Has it always been pretty bad?


To those who live where it snows, does it just seem like weather forecasting hasn't evolved enough to predict winter weather with any decent amount of accuracy. Summertime weather seems easier, but in the winter, maybe i'm wrong but we are usually told to brace for the wrath of God but wake up to flurries.

I'm sure these people get paid more than me.
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Old 12-10-2013, 02:53 PM
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Basic error in the OP. Weather forecasting today is exceptionally accurate. Most 3 day forecasts are more accurate than the 1 day forecasts 20 years ago. You just remember the times they missed and forget all the times they got it right.

Weather is a chaos event. Perfection in prediction is impossible.
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Old 12-10-2013, 02:54 PM
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Weather forecasting is actually far more accurate than it was in the past, due to more sophisticated tracking tools (satellite imagery, Doppler radar), as well as much more advanced prediction models. Forecast accuracy out to 2-3 days is generally in the 90+% range, and that's far better than it was in, say, the 1960s or 1970s.

Of course, we don't really remember those occasions when the forecasters got everything right -- we only remember the occasions when the forecast is off.

All of that being said, winter weather (particularly snowfall amounts) is a particularly tricky area for forecasting, because a very small variation in the track of a storm (or the direction of the wind) can have a substantial impact on snowfall. The center of the storm went 50 miles further south than predicted? In the scheme of things, that's a pretty small "miss" for the model, but for a particular location, that can mean the difference between a dusting of snow, and 4-5".

I also do notice that some meteorologists (particularly those on TV) tend to err on the side of predicting heavier snowfall. If a forecaster predicts "4-6 inches of snow", and it's only 1 inch, he won't get pilloried nearly as badly as he would be if the reverse happens. Most people would rather be over-prepared for a snowstorm, than caught flat-footed.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 12-10-2013 at 02:57 PM.
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Old 12-10-2013, 03:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kenobi 65 View Post

I also do notice that some meteorologists (particularly those on TV) tend to err on the side of predicting heavier snowfall. If a forecaster predicts "4-6 inches of snow", and it's only 1 inch, he won't get pilloried nearly as badly as he would be if the reverse happens. Most people would rather be over-prepared for a snowstorm, than caught flat-footed.
The Signal and the Noise has a whole chapter on weather forecasting and how it has gotten a lot better. And Nate notes that NWS forecasts are more accurate than the Weather Channel which are more accurate than local news in predicting rain and snow. People are much happier being prepared for rain and it not happening than vice versa, and a prediction with rain or snow is going to get more attention from viewers.
When I was a kid no one even tried to make six day forecasts, let alone accurate ones - but that was before satellites and supercomputers.
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Old 12-10-2013, 04:28 PM
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Originally Posted by kenobi 65 View Post
The center of the storm went 50 miles further south than predicted? In the scheme of things, that's a pretty small "miss" for the model, but for a particular location, that can mean the difference between a dusting of snow, and 4-5".
And within 50 miles of the forecaster is close enough to be right IMHO. If our local TV weather drone says there's going to be a tornado, and one strikes 50 miles away, I'm not going to bitch because it didn't hit my house.
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Old 12-10-2013, 03:57 PM
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I'm actually amazed at just how accurate they are these. I was particularly impressed with how they predicted Sandy many days in advance of hitting my area. It was a complex storm being impacted by many variables and they got it just about exactly right.
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Old 12-10-2013, 04:10 PM
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The forecast models were really off today. The National Weather Service predicted 4 to 6 inches of snow and we got 1 to 2, which mostly melted on paved areas because it was also several degrees warmer than forecast. I had looked forward to a nice solid workout shoveling the driveway and sidewalks after work today, but I got home to nothing more than a pathetic slushy coating not worth shoveling.

IMO, the ongoing global climate change is throwing the models into a cocked hat. There have been a bunch of overforecast snowstorms in the DC area this last couple of years.
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Old 12-10-2013, 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Neidhart View Post
The forecast models were really off today. The National Weather Service predicted 4 to 6 inches of snow and we got 1 to 2, which mostly melted on paved areas because it was also several degrees warmer than forecast. I had looked forward to a nice solid workout shoveling the driveway and sidewalks after work today, but I got home to nothing more than a pathetic slushy coating not worth shoveling.

IMO, the ongoing global climate change is throwing the models into a cocked hat. There have been a bunch of overforecast snowstorms in the DC area this last couple of years.
Forecasting winter storms in the DC area is notoriously difficult. You have the ocean on one side and mountains on the other, and the temperature is almost always within a couple of degrees of freezing. A 30 mile wobble in the storm track can mean the difference between heavy snow, an ice storm, or cold rain.
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Old 12-10-2013, 10:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Neidhart View Post
The forecast models were really off today. The National Weather Service predicted 4 to 6 inches of snow and we got 1 to 2, which mostly melted on paved areas because it was also several degrees warmer than forecast. I had looked forward to a nice solid workout shoveling the driveway and sidewalks after work today, but I got home to nothing more than a pathetic slushy coating not worth shoveling.

IMO, the ongoing global climate change is throwing the models into a cocked hat. There have been a bunch of overforecast snowstorms in the DC area this last couple of years.
The flip side is that here in Dallas, they got the freezing rain/sleet and the timing spot-on, but the amount was in excess of their forecast, which caused much more widespread power outages than Oncor had planned for.
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Old 12-11-2013, 03:55 PM
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The "Forecast Advisor" tracks the accuracy of various weather services (scroll down after entering zip code):

http://www.forecastadvisor.com/
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Old 12-10-2013, 04:33 PM
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I remember, back in the 50s and 60s, when it seemed they just tossed a coin for the forecast. They're way, way more accurate today.
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Old 12-10-2013, 10:24 PM
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Another vote for forecasting.


Quote:
Originally Posted by jrsone View Post
To those who live where it snows, does it just seem like weather forecasting hasn't evolved enough to predict winter weather with any decent amount of accuracy. Summertime weather seems easier, but in the winter, maybe i'm wrong but we are usually told to brace for the wrath of God but wake up to flurries.

I'm sure these people get paid more than me.
Forecasting is great now. Really. It's amazing.

Yes, some stations hype it a lot. ALL station get pretty tedious about big systems coming through. But I would rather be relieved than horrified to wake up and see how wrong they got it.
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