Despite its radical benefit to humankind, meteorology still attracts criticism and remains the butt of jokes, mostly because its weather predictions could go wrong. Even as seasoned weather forecasters could announce a 100 percent chance of rain in a city, it wouldn’t rain at all afterwards!
To be fair, weather forecasting has significantly improved in the last 20 years or so. Experts are much better equipped in providing advanced warnings of severe weather events, doubling the lead times when it comes to tornado warnings, and offering people about 40 more minutes to escape flash floods.
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In addition, accurate weather forecasting will depend on how many eyes are on the sky. More than 11,000 observation stations across the world, for instance, take hourly measurements of temperature, humidity, air pressure, and wind speed and direction. Meteorologists are tasked to interpret computer-generated forecasts, comparing among different mathematical models and interpreting the amount of real-time data coming from the ground.
In reality, conflicting predictive models may result in contrasting views. Pinning down the exact location of a weather event, too, can be notoriously difficult. Weather prediction tools monitoring vital weather signs are far from perfectly accurate.
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But count on the whole science to improve over time, as witnessed the past decades. Supercomputers and other advanced technological tools, after all, are lending a hand in cranking out the calculations to reduce or eliminate guesswork. Keep in mind, though, that predicting the future will be sorely difficult not just for meteorologists, but for humankind as a whole.
Jim Byrne is a consulting meteorologist at the Weather Channel program “So you think you’d survive.” An alumnus of San Jose State University, he had also been the chief meteorologist for KCOY CBS-12 and a freelance weekend meteorologist at NBC Bay Area. Read more about his work on this page.