Are Weather Forecasts Really Reliable?

by firmm Team

Text: Bash Sarmiento, Photos: see picture reference

When it comes to the weather, we just have to put a little more trust in scientists as they work on ways to improve marine weather forecasts, weather balloons, satellites, and other kinds of weather predicting tools and methods. For now, we can broaden our knowledge by understanding this science just a little bit better.

What we need to know about weather forcasting

Nothing about weather forecasting is easy. Meteorologists have tools such as computer models to predict the weather. And while computational power has advanced significantly due to how fast technology has progressed over the years, meteorologists still find it extremely difficult to accurately predict the weather over a period of a few days.

We can’t expect meteorologists to get it right immediately, or at least within 24 hours. The reason for this is because of these three factors that limit their capacity to forecast the weather accurately:

  • the amount of data available at present
  • the amount of time given to them to analyze it
  • the intricacy of meteorological occurrences

To further understand just how complex this whole process is, let’s take a deeper look into how meteorologists get their information.

Gathering Weather Information

When predicting the weather, you need a massive data collection network. Land-based weather stations, weather balloons, and weather satellites are all part of this network.

Data from marine weather buoys and ships operating at sea is also used by weather forecasters. When all of these sources are integrated, they form an observational network of data.

All of this information from all of these sources is fed into computers, which are then used to generate computer models. These computer models are what meteorologists use to forecast the weather.

Most weather stations are located in and around cities because of the many people that work or live in these areas. As a result, data for rural and maritime areas is frequently limited. Furthermore, weather stations located outside of major airports and cities may not be as accurate as those located in more densely populated locations. This is because rural weather stations are more sparsely distributed.

For these areas, satellite data is frequently used by meteorologists to fill in some of the gaps. However, some factors can affect the accuracy of satellite data. Cloud cover and fluctuations in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere are two examples.

Analyzing Weather Information

Weather models investigate and predict atmospheric processes and changes using mathematical equations. They use a simplified representation of the ground surface, known as a "grid," which is similar to a topographic map or a road map.

Because of how fast people want to receive weather forecasts, these models need to run fairly quickly. When processes like these are done rapidly, there is a trade-off between speed and complexity. The longer the model takes to construct, the more equations and procedures it contains.

It is precisely because of this that we have to understand that weather models are just that: representations and approximations of reality. They don't take into consideration all of the variables and factors that can influence the weather. Many of these variables that influence weather are still being heavily studied by scientists.

So, can I still rely on weather forecasts?

The very short answer is yes and no. Remember the rule of thumb: a seven-day forecast can reliably predict the weather roughly 80% of the time. 90% for five-day forecasts.
On the other hand, 10-day or longer forecasts are only correct about 50% of the time.

From this alone, we can already tell that we’ve progressed in terms of predicting future weather. A five-day forecast's accuracy now is comparable to that of a three-day forecast 20 years ago. Every decade, we gain around a day's worth of skills in this field.

The future of forecasting is dependent on how far we can advance with supercomputer technology. With faster supercomputers, meteorologists can run models at higher resolutions and represent more atmospheric processes, theoretically improving forecast accuracy.

Photo references:
Photo 1: Double exposure of Hurricane Ida approaching New Orleans on August 29, 2021.
Photo 2: Earth Planet
Photo 3: lightning and tornado hitting village

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