How Meteorologists Compare To Other Professions That Predict The Future — Forbes

Here’s a report from Marshall Shepherd that’s running on the Forbes website. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

A recent piece by Dennis Mersereau in Forbes described how [the administration’s] proposed budget (likely “dead on arrival” in Congress) would result in mass layoffs of National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists. On the Forbes Facebook page, I saw cliche and misinformed comments like “Good, meteorologists are always wrong anyhow.” Such statements are rooted in misperceptions based on experiences, lack of math-statistical literacy, and knee-jerk reactions. The reality is that weather forecasts are quite good when consumed with proper perspective. I pose the following question: If the weather forecast called for 70 degrees F in two days and it ended up being 68 degrees F, will people say the forecast was wrong? The answer is probably like many relationships. It’s complicated. Meteorologists seem to be held to a different standard than other professions that predict the future.

In response to the question posed, some people will say it was right and others will say it is wrong. How do meteorologists compare to other professions that try to predict the future like investors, economists, sports analysts, doctors, and political pundits? If an investor could pick the best performing stocks 80 to 90 percent of the time, would you likely give her your business? What if your doctor said that there was a 90% chance that your symptoms will worsen unless you take a certain medication, are you likely to fill the prescription? There is probably someone reading this and overanalyzing the questions. However, most people probably said “yes” to both questions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Scijinks website is a good place to start:

“A seven-day forecast can accurately predict the weather about 80 percent of the time and a five-day forecast can accurately predict the weather approximately 90 percent of the time. However, a 10-day—or longer—forecast is only right about half the time.”

These percentages are even higher within 2 to 3 days. Jason Samenow and Angela Fritz wrote in the Washington Post Capital Weather Gang:

“A one-day temperature forecast is now typically accurate within about two to 2.5 degrees, according to National Weather Service data. In other words, when you see a forecast high of 82, most of the time the actual high will be between 80 and 85.”


Nate Silver’s excellent essay, “The Weatherman Is Not a Moron,” was published a few years ago in the New York Times. He clearly laid out that weather forecasting is an area that has seen tremendous strides in recent decades. He writes,

“Still, most people take their forecasts for granted. Like a baseball umpire, a weather forecaster rarely gets credit for getting the call right….Six years earlier, the National Weather Service also made a nearly perfect forecast of Hurricane Katrina, anticipating its exact landfall almost 60 hours in advance.”

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