by Joe Stevens
Hello Everyone –
The next time I hear, “well that isn’t what my weather app is saying,” when I share a weather forecast that came from a human being I am just going to explode. These weather apps have made everyone a trained meteorologist without one class at doing something that most go to an institution of higher learning to accomplish.
I am here to let everyone know, this week’s column is going to get down into some technical weeds, but I just hope my trusty weed eater will help clear things up. So here we go on why that weather app on your phone is of little use when actually predicting the weather.
I decided to catch up with a good friend of mine and who I trust to give me the straight skinny when it comes to weather forecasting and that’s Tony Edwards, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Charleston, West Virginia. I wanted to find out Tony’s views on these weather apps that everyone uses on their phones.
“While many out there probably think we just throw darts at a weather dart board, there are a bunch of tools we use to create a forecast. We take into account temperatures, the probability of precipitation, is it going to be sunny or cloudy.” according to Edwards.
Tony added, “We rely on computer models pretty heavily to help us out, but computer models are just really just math equations, which are used to spit out a forecast. The problem with relying on math formulas, a lot of assumptions are made that are just math equations and that’s what the weather apps use, which can lead to very sketchy information without any true human input.”
Tony was quick to tell me any weather app is probably good enough to tell you if you have to wear a coat or bring an umbrella, but that is about it in the long run.
One thing Tony made clear to me was, “When weather really matters to you, if there is active weather in the forecast, I always tell people to get their forecast from a local source, from a human being. We in the National Weather Service or local TV meteorologists have a lot of experience and can add that human element into the forecast which is not found in the weather app on everyone’s phone.
So do you want to put a meteorologist on the edge, say to them, “I hear what you are saying, but my weather app is saying that it’s going to rain and there is nothing in your forecast that indicates that happening.” Again, this is where human intel and in many cases that is no more than looking out your door and seeing for yourself what the true situation is at that time.
To this point Tony said, “To be honest, most days it’s not a big deal because it (weather app) will get you in the ballpark of how warm or cold it’s going to be, but if there is active weather coming, most folks will look at their app, indicating there is an 80 percent chance of four inches of snow, which could be completely different from the forecast from a human taking everything into consideration and that bothers me.”
Case in point, a number of years ago when I was working at Snowshoe Mountain, I was watching The Weather Channel and Jim Cantore told everyone that the computer models are showing rain at Snowshoe, West Virginia at that moment, when in fact it was actually dumping snow. Truth be told, at the base of the mountain it was raining, however at the summit it was snowing. I called the channel’s weather desk and Jim answered the phone and I told him it was not raining but snowing and stuck the phone out the door to show him (just kidding). While I was on the phone with him, he went to radar, which indeed showed snow at higher elevations. He then admitted the computer model he was using was wrong and thanked me for the human intel. Imagine that, huh?
Many of the weather apps actually provide forecasts two weeks out and when I asked Tony about that he just laughed and said, “I tell people who use that info to plan events based on that information, to think twice or better yet, not do it. Remember the further out the forecasts go out, the more uncertainties that will be in the forecast. Take all those long term forecasts with a grain of salt. At the National Weather Service, we only forecast seven days out and in reality, the best forecasts come two to three days out, with more certainty.
Tony admits without boots on the ground it is tough sometimes to figure out what is exactly going on at ski resorts, due to their remote locations. However, he says the advent of on-slope cams have really helped them in knowing what is taking place, especially during active weather, “Weather cams at the resorts really help us dial in what exactly is taking place. We have a system in our office that one of our forecasts created that gives us a perspective that in past times we would not have up to date information for our forecasting. In the winter, there is nothing better than those web cams. They give us the ground truth.”
So, you say you want to help the National Weather Service with providing them human intel from your location during active weather scenarios, well there is a way you can step up and help out. The program is the National Weather Service’s Weather Spotter program. Anyone can become a weather spotter (yours truly is one) just click here and sign up.
That’s it for this week. Just remember whether it be cold or whether it be warm, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. Your favorite slope is now probably open, so go make some turns.