Friday, January 8, 2010

Why is the weather so difficult to predict?

We had another unexpected snow storm December 30. I certainly didn’t expect snow; I didn’t even wear a coat to work that day. And I certainly wasn’t expecting it to take 3+ hours to drive my 15-mile commute! Rufus LaLone, author of the online Weather CafĂ©®, discussed at an OAN chapter meeting in early November the challenges meteorologist face when forecasting Pacific Northwest weather. His presentation was an eye-opener for me. I thought you might be interested, too. Follow Rufus’ 1-3 week forecasts, link to You’ll get some tasty weather tidbits with your morning coffee and be able to tell which day this week will be the best to get out in the garden.

Rufus gets a kick out of studying weather modeling and apparently there are many models from which to choose. There’s a lot of science behind the models but they can be interpreted very differently, that’s where “art” comes in (Rufus appears to be quite good at interpreting these models even though he’s not a trained meteorologist). Because we’re at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and most of our weather comes from the west, surface weather data aren’t readily available (there are weather buoys in the ocean but it’s not like having 3,000 miles of land mass and cities collecting data). That means meteorologists have a difficult time interpreting what’s going on between land and the 35,000 foot jet streams. (My notes from Rufus’ presentation are a bit sketchy about how the polar and subtropical jet streams influence our weather, so I won’t attempt to explain it but you can find Wikipedia’s interesting analysis of weather forecasting at The west coast also has less long-term weather data than east coast cities, making patterns more difficult to predict.

I have a new appreciation for the challenges inherent in weather forecasting. It’s like predicting the future with a few more scientific tools at our disposal. I’ll try to be more understanding when “they get it wrong” but I’ll still keep my gas tank full just in case it takes me longer to get home due to unexpected adverse weather conditions.

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