Why can’t weather forecasters get it right? Foregoing a sunny day because of the forecast of rain? Isn’t it the worst kind of crime?
Ever caught without a coat when the weather forecast called for a warm spell? Really, the liars need to go!
People rely on accurate weather predictions to better prepare for and deal with the effects of extreme weather.
But, it is always tricky to get it right. In fact, many people go on to say, “Why are weather forecasts always wrong?”
Forecasting weather is tricky because the atmospheric conditions are always changing, therefore the accuracy degrades over time.
More about the Art of Weather Forecasting
The weather is the atmospheric condition at a specific location and time.
Predicting the weather accurately can aid in deciding whether to bring an umbrella on a given day.
But more importantly it can save lives and aid in taking action when extreme weather comes.
If a tornado is approaching, for instance, or a hurricane is on its way, people can be warned to take cover and prepare accordingly because of weather forecasts.
Accuracy of Weather Predictions
Robert FitzRoy, a former captain of HMS Beagle on Darwin’s famous trip, began predicting storms by telegraphing weather throughout the UK in the 1860s.
But the field of weather forecasting has come a long way since then.
Nonetheless, there are still situations where it seems like individuals depend on questionable practices like reading the omens in tea leaves or the phases of the moon.
Despite many advancements, the general public falsely assumes that weather forecasts are never reliable.
After looking at the evidence, it appears that the problem may be more psychological than global.
Fact: Whilst the BoM claims a 2% increase in forecast accuracy for 2020-21, allegations of poor weather forecasts have increased in recent years.
Are Weather Forecasts Always Inaccurate?
The truth is that modern technology has made it a lot easier to predict weather changes.
Predictions made for the next week tend to be about 80% accurate, while those made for the following five days are often around 90% accurate.
Predictions offered for a longer time frame can still be beneficial, even if they are only half accurate.
The use of sophisticated computer programs known as weather models is essential for accurate weather forecasting.
Prediction models are developed using educated guesses and assumptions because there is no way to retrieve past data.
Fact: The NOAA (GOES-R) series is an example of a geostationary satellite, which orbits the Earth at an altitude of 22,000 miles.
Why Can’t Weather Forecasters Get It Right?
Accurate weather forecasting is a tough and complex endeavor for a variety of reasons.
The complexity of the Atmosphere
The complexity of the Earth’s atmosphere is a major factor in the failure of weather forecasting models.
As a dynamic, ever-evolving system, the atmosphere can be profoundly impacted by even seemingly insignificant external factors.
Meteorologists use complicated computer models to anticipate weather patterns, but these models have their limits.
It is mainly because they can not account for all of the intricate interactions that take place in the atmosphere.
Accurate and up-to-date data are crucial for making reliable weather predictions.
Incomplete data can reduce how well we can predict the weather.
Meteorologists get information for their forecasts from a wide range of resources, including weather stations and satellites.
Sadly, not all regions of the world have easy access to weather stations.
Where stations exist, the data they report may be outdated or otherwise erroneous.
It might be difficult for forecasters to get a good read of the atmosphere under these situations.
This is especially true for extreme weather occurrences like hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.
Errors in Computer Models
Computer models that utilize the available data are another tool used by forecasters.
Unfortunately, mistakes in these models can occur due to missing data, leading to less trustworthy forecasts.
That is why having a vast system of weather stations and satellites is so important to gather reliable data in real-time.
The Butterfly Effect on Forecasts
The “butterfly effect” can also have an impact on weather predictions.
A minor perturbation in one element of a complex system can have far-reaching repercussions on other parts, a phenomenon known as the butterfly effect.
As it relates to weather forecasting, this means that even a slight discrepancy in the raw data can have a large impact on the final result.
Given the weather patterns’ complexity, accurate forecasting is challenging for meteorologists.
Unpredictable Weather Patterns
The unpredictability of weather patterns is another difficulty faced by meteorologists.
Alterations to the Earth’s atmosphere, the sun’s energy output, and even human actions like air pollution can all have an impact on the weather.
Accurately predicting weather patterns, especially over extended time spans, can be challenging when these elements are taken into account.
Meteorologists’ abilities are constrained by the technology at their disposal.
Despite substantial technological advancements in recent decades, weather forecasters still use traditional methods like radar, satellite photography, and weather balloons.
This can lead to errors.
Errors in weather forecasting are possible because these methods cannot capture all of the intricate interactions that take place in the atmosphere.
The Role of Satellites in Weather Forecasting
Many different sources are used to help create a weather report. And satellites are probably the most common tools used in this sector.
In weather forecasting, geostationary satellites play an important role.
These satellites give near-constant imagery of a single spot on Earth because their orbits match up with the planet’s rotation.
Hurricane trackers, for example, can use the real-time data provided by geostationary satellites to monitor the development and progress of these devastating storms.
Fact: Geostationary satellites make severe weather updates available in real time.
Polar Satellite Systems
The second category includes satellites in polar orbits, such as those in NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), which travel about 500 miles above Earth’s surface.
These satellites orbit the planet 14 times a day, going from pole to pole.
The polar-orbiting satellites provide twice daily coverage of the entire world as the Earth revolves below them.
Overall, the flood of data provided by these satellites allows weather forecasters to make more precise predictions of the weather up to seven days in advance, allowing for greater global preparation and safety.
An Important Consideration
The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite, which orbits at a million miles from Earth, provides space weather alerts, forecasts, and observations of ozone and particles in Earth’s atmosphere.
Droughts, forest fires, poor air quality, and hazardous coastal waters are only a few of the environmental dangers that necessitate such data for assessment.
Fact: High-resolution observations of the atmosphere, clouds, and seas are all within the reach of polar satellite systems.
Understanding the Importance of Better Forecasts
The number of people killed by natural disasters can be reduced even more with the help of social science studies and improved forecasts.
Improved forecasting has a direct impact on saving human lives.
The death toll from natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes in the United States has been steadily declining throughout the last century.
These days, forecasters can usually warn the public of impending danger far in advance.
No hurricane today could possibly wreak as much damage as the one that hit Texas, in 1900.
Around 8,000 people were killed when a hurricane with gusts topping 130 miles per hour and a major storm surge hit the island.
This happened mainly because of a lack of trustworthy information from offshore ships and a lack of high ground for sanctuary.
The Need to Improve Weather Forecasts
Hundreds of people in the United States still die every year as a result of extreme weather, despite advancements in weather prediction.
That is why it is vital to have accurate weather forecasts because it helps people to take precautions when potentially hazardous weather is expected.
The Future of Weather Forecasting
There is currently a lot of research in the social and behavioral sciences.
And most of them are aimed at figuring out what factors influence people’s reactions to weather threats based on their:
- Background info
- Background beliefs
- Background values
- Background worldview
Losses due to extreme weather can be further mitigated by incorporating these findings into weather predictions.
This would help to better communicate warnings in a way that causes people to heed them and take preventative measures.
Why can’t weather forecasters get it right? The atmosphere is extremely complicated and is always changing.
In fact, minor changes in air pressure, humidity, and other factors can directly affect a weather forecast.
The availability of different high-tech satellites has certainly made it better, but global warming is creating a challenge for weather forecasters to get it right.