Archive for the ‘SR90 Junior High Science Research’ Category

My Suspicion About Weather Reports

March 16, 2012 2 comments

My Suspicion About Weather Reports

By James H. Choi
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Mark Twain famously said, “It is hard to predict — especially about the future.”

Of all people who get paid to predict the future, weather forecasters are the most vulnerable because–compare “Someday the world will end” type of predictions– their predictions are routinely confirmed or falsified.

Perhaps because of it they never seem keep records of what they predict.  Who would want to announce to the world how wrong you were, after all.

Modern “Chaos Theory” explains to us why long range weather forecast is impossible–because it depends on too many subtle, unmeasurable factors from all around the glove: called “The Butterfly Effect.”

Even though many weather services predict 10 days in advance, I was told by these Chaos Theorists that we cannot know that far into the future.  Thus I doubt the weather will even barely resembles what was forecast when the 10th day arrives.  If the forecast was accurate, I believe it was by a random chance, also known as dumb luck.

Forecasts require a lot of ground measurements and super-computer power to create.  I don’t believe every station broadcasting weather forecasts owns such resources.  (And if they did, what a waste.)  So there must be a few central forecasting agencies behind the scenes supplying data for meteorologists in front of the camera.  But how many agencies exist?  Two?  Ten?  Which ones are better than the others?  Does one agency let most stations parrot its single forecast?  I so far haven’t been able to find reliable sources explaining these details. prediction or forecast is dubious if they don’t specify their error ranges.  A 10-day forecast should have a larger error range than a 12-hour forecast, yet each of these has its own single-number high and low predictions with no error reported, no plus minus something.  The meteorologists must know the error range, yet they don’t release it. Why?   Perhaps this is because the error can be so large.   So large that it is useless, i.e., the high will be between 20°F to 106°F, and the low will be between -10°F to 92°F.

There is another thing that makes me curious.  Most countries have their own governmental meteorology departments that derive the weather predictions.  They get paid to do so, so regardless of accuracy, the departments must produce these forecasts.  I wonder whether these departments simply copy what other countries say their weather will be — many countries’ departments do post international forecasts, after all — or if it is the other way around.  Does one country’s meteorology department produce its national forecasts and just reprint international forecasts from the relevant country’s meteorology department?

We all rely on these forecasts, but I don’t think I’m the only one so in the dark about the mechanisms behind them.  So I’ve decided to get to the bottom of this.  I’ve assigned a research project to students in my SR90 course requiring them find all about this mystery.  In addition to finding all weather forecasting agencies, they are to record 10-day forecasts from various web pages and the actual temperatures 10 days later for various cities.   We will track the performance of each to see how each one fares.

This project will be the first of SR90 because it requires no equipment; a web page access, and Excel will suffice.  Students will record data, analyze them, and graph them, then draw their own conclusions.  I’m looking forward to unveiling the Mystery of the Weather Forecast.

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