The weatherman was wrong

Perhaps the most recognizable local “celebrities” are cursed for being wrong, and championed for being right. Much like football teams, people choose a favorite and a foe. Right or wrong, people continue to watch and intake their information like a sunday sermon. I am referring to the television “meteorologist”.

Despite their job relaying scientific information (the weather), most aren’t scientists. They are hired for their personality, their looks, their smile, and often their strange humor. Teevee meteorologists are the liaison between the people who collect and interpret data and John Q Public who rarely investigates information from the source. They serve an important role as a community reporters, sharing photos of weather and community events, kids in parks, and that sort of thing. And – they are often used as a sales pitch for the local news broadcast, that bring the station ratings and advertisers. But, for interesting and useful weather information, it’s best to go to the source – the National Weather Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration.

Virtually all weathermen in the USA ultimately get their data from one of those government sources. One never hears of “WXYZ” news launching a satellite, weather balloons, or maintaining official weather data. All that information comes from the NWS, and the weatherman “friendlies” it up a bit, and tells it to the public. Even their forecasts are likely a slight tweaking of what is ultimately issued by the NWS.

Recently, I have been getting weather information from the “Forecast Discussion” on the NWS webpage. The discussion for the Phoenix area can be found here, but all NWS offices should have a similar “Forecast Discussion” pages.

I have no idea how the staff at the NWS service works, but these discussions read like notes of the watchman whose job is to run model after model as new data arrives, and periodically update the forecast as things change. The discussion is filled with jargon, acronyms, typos, and even a little bit of meteorologist personality. Sometimes there is mention of the “next shift”, items are written in the first person, and sometimes the writer makes known his or her wishes for the weather to change and become more interesting. After all, running continual models that say “sunny and warm” would get old quickly. I don’t understand half of what they are discussion, yet I love it and check the updated discussion several times a day.

After a few months of reading these discussions, I learned that much more goes into forecasting weather besides temperature, humidity, wind, and air pressure data. They measure all of the above at different levels of the atmosphere, rely on satellite, radar, weather balloons and ground observations, and have multiple models in which to input those data and compile a forecast. And with all the data available, the various models sometimes disagree, and the forecaster still has to make a judgment call. The meteorologist’s thoughts and decisions are available to read – in the “Forecast Discussion”.

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