Stillwater News Press

CNHI Special Projects

April 17, 2013

Everybody talks about the weather, but it's not easy to predict

(Continued)

When the almanacs risk testable predictions, they often fail. The Old Farmer's Almanac predicted that the Atlantic corridor would average 47.5 degrees for March 2013, off by nearly four degrees. That might seem like a reasonably good guess, except that anyone with access to historical averages — that is, anyone with an Internet connection — can usually get within a few degrees by sticking near the mean. The almanac's prediction for February was 29 degrees, nine degrees below the actual temperature, and the forecast for January was off by five degrees.

Critics of the almanacs are nearly as old as the almanacs themselves. A forecaster at the U.S. Weather Bureau complained about the almanacs' inaccuracy in 1905, and a Harvard professor did the same in a public address in 1926. But we simply can't let go of the dream of weather omniscience.

Generally speaking, forecasters who make predictions months in advance rely on analog techniques, which means they look for patterns in the current weather, then find similar patterns in prior years. Their predictions are based on what happened in the past. The problem is that this technique has never been shown to work particularly well. The atmosphere is a complicated place, and it's very difficult to say that a single past year, or even a combination of past years, is enough like this year to make accurate predictions.

The National Weather Service relies more on dynamic forecasting. The agency's experts observe the weather systems at work in the atmosphere, then use mathematical and physical models to calculate what will happen next. The technique is far more reliable, but it has its limits.

"We sustain higher accuracy out to two to three days in advance; then it starts dropping off faster at days six through eight," says Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
CNHI Special Projects
  • Norman-Tornado16.jpg Audio: How can we better prepare for tornadoes?

    An NPR broadcast examines the question of how communities can better prepare for tornadoes like the one that struck Moore, Okla. on Monday. The broadcast features commentary from Michael Fitzgerald, who reported a five-part disaster series for the CNHI News Service.

    May 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • Norman-Tornado08.jpg Photos: Aftermath of massive tornado in Moore Storm victims were pulled from the rubble and residents began surveying the damage late Monday and early Tuesday in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, where a powerful tornado destroyed entire neighborhoods and left dozens dead.

    May 21, 2013

  • MainStory5.IndyQuakeDrill.jpg The Big One: Preparing for mid-America earthquake

    It’s a bleak scenario. A massive earthquake along the New Madrid fault kills or injures 60,000 people in Tennessee. A quarter of a million people are homeless.

    May 19, 2013 3 Photos 3 Stories

  • screenshot salmon.jpg VIDEO: How sequestration could affect US flood warning system

    Oregon and Idaho each had to shut down three water gauges due to automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration. Watch how Idaho relies on these water gauges, from tracking drought conditions to determining stream levels for salmon.

    May 15, 2013 1 Photo

  • MainStory4.ForneyTornadoDamage.JPG Warning Signs: Technology speeds disaster alerts, response

    Technology has changed the way Americans get ready for disasters and respond to them – with more precise forecasts, personalized weather warnings and more efficient recovery efforts. And it will continue to help us be more prepared.

    May 12, 2013 3 Photos

  • Screen shot 2013-05-10 at 3.40.47 PM.png VIDEO: High-tech storm prediction center warns residents of tornadoes

    At the National Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., the team of meteorologists charged with predicting when and where tornadoes may strike rely on ever-changing technology to get the job done.

    May 12, 2013 1 Photo

  • Screen shot 2013-05-10 at 5.11.06 PM.png VIDEO: Misconceptions about predicting tornadoes

    National Weather Center personnel Lans Rothfusz and David Andra speak about the misconceptions the public may have when it comes to the National Storm Prediction Center in Norman.

    May 11, 2013 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 3.33.54 PM.png VIDEO: Take an inside look at storm prediction center

    National Weather Center personnel Lans Rothfusz and David Andra give viewers an idea of the day-to-day happenings at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

    May 9, 2013 1 Photo

  • 800px-Haiti_earthquake_damage.jpg When the earth moves under our feet

    One of the most breath-taking geologic events is a major earthquake. In just a few moments, shaking of the Earth can result in billions of dollars of damage and thousands of lives lost.

    May 8, 2013 1 Photo

  • 20110524_Chickasha Tornado2.jpg When in a tornado, here's what not to do

    Highway overpasses are widely thought to be a last-minute refuge from a tornado, thanks in part to this 1991 video. But, meteorologists say, taking shelter beneath a bridge is probably the last place you want to be when a tornado strikes.

    May 7, 2013 1 Photo

Buy & Share Photos
NewsPress e-Edition
NewsPress Specials
AP Video
Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow
Stocks
NDN Video
'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years
Must Read