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Why Aren’t We Better at Predicting the Weather?

How science and technology could transform the future of weather forecasting

May 2024

Script

OK, everyone: We’re probably being too mean to the weatherman.

While we all tend to complain when our weather app gets a forecast wrong ... weather prediction has actually improved quite a lot in recent decades.

Five-day weather forecasts today are as accurate as three-day forecasts were in the 1990s.i

(Although that’s not much comfort when you get caught in an unexpected downpour.)

So, why does the stereotype persist that weather forecasts are unreliable?

Part of the problem is that not all weather predictions are created equal.

Five-day forecasts are accurate around 90% of the time, while 10-day forecasts are right just half the time.ii

And any attempt to predict the weather more than about 10 days out ... is pretty much useless.iii

Why is it so hard to correctly predict the weather?

Meteorologists base their predictions on sophisticated computer modelsiv — which use data gathered by things like satellites and weather.v

Those work reasonably well in the short-term.

(Although they’re more precise about things like temperature than when or where it’s going to rain.)

But the longer-term the forecast, the less likely the models will make an accurate prediction, because there’s not enough data and the atmosphere changes too unpredictably for the computer models to anticipate.

Currently, however, there are billions of dollars being spent to improve weather forecasting.vi

One startup is using artificial intelligence to make predictive models more accurate.

Another has deployed sailboat drones to collect important data from remote parts of the ocean.vii

But until that technology gets better ... feel free to ignore those 90-day forecasts.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. Five-day forecasts are accurate around 90% of the time, while 10-day forecasts are right just half the time. 
  2. With current technology, accurate long-term weather forecasts are essentially impossible. 
  3. Five-day weather forecasts are now as accurate as three-day forecasts were in the 1990s.

Source(s)

  1. "The Hunt for a Better Weather Forecast" (Pranshu Verma)  Washington Post 
  2. How Reliable Are Weather Forecasts?  SciJinks
  3. "Study Says ‘Specific’ Weather Forecasts Can’t Be Made More Than 10 Days in Advance" (Matthew Cappucci)  Washington Post
  4. "The Hunt for a Better Weather Forecast" (Pranshu Verma)  Washington Post 
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.

Shownotes

SOUND | Premium Beat: “Sidewalk” Life Is An Epic Film

FOOTAGE | YouTube: The Weather Channel // Getty: jakkapan21, Orbon Alija, Goodboy Picture Company, Aryo Hadi, Vadym Kalitnyk, Placebo365, LoveSilhouette, burcu demir, janiecbros, Prasert Krainukul, mikroman6, Hal Bergman, George-3d, john finney photography, Footage of the World, kafl, Warren Faidley, sathish n, simonkr, gorodenkoff, Silverwell Films, Arthur Cauty // CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH AND HAVE NOT ENDORSED OR SPONSORED ANY PORTION OF THIS PRODUCTION.

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