Blog: The “Perfect” Forecast


     Weather impacts our daily lives each and every day.  The fact that it is not taught more from elementary school through high school is a big problem. While that is a topic we will discuss another day, the overall theme is one I will expand upon.  I think a little bit more education as a child about the weather would have helped many adults prepare for and withstand the many elements we face daily.  Since that is not the case, let’s talk about what many believe to be as the individual that can make a “perfect forecast.”

    You show me a person that says they can make a perfect weather forecast and I’ll show you a liar. That is no disrespect to any professional meteorologist, researcher, or forecaster out there doing the best job they can. The fact of the matter is the weather is too fluid and dynamic to ever nail down to an exact. We, as forecasters, analyze clues the atmosphere gives us by dissecting forecast models, recognizing upper air patterns, and using climatology. Even with these tools available to us, forecasts run a success rate not unlike a Hall of Fame baseball player’s batting average. The fact is that no matter how good a forecaster is (or perceive themselves to be), they’re more often wrong than not.  That is completely okay! In my estimation there are ASPECTS of a forecast that can be nailed. These aspects include the type of weather one location will receive, what the temperature one location can expect, and other nuances such as how much cloud cover in expected and whether or not the environment is favorable for severe weather. 

     For many of us, a forecast doesn’t start 4 hours before an event.  Depending on the type of weather I am looking for, I will start looking 5 to 7 days in advance. I know I will be wrong on a forecast over 48 hours out if I start talking specifics. Specific snow fall totals are inaccurate even 3 hours before an event. I like to think I am best in severe thunderstorm and tornado forecasting, but still can not hold a candle to many in the profession. As much as I want to say I am good at severe weather forecasting, I can’t tell you if a tornado is going to hit your backyard. The good thing is that nobody can!  I am probably in the minority in feeling that we are actually giving out too much information to the general public. Citing exact values give the viewer the false confidence that the forecaster knows how an event will play out. This is why I am such a big detractor of the news and media posting snow fall maps with totals on them. It is unethical and only serves to create click baiting through fear.  There is no shame in being wrong. The only shame falls within those amateurs that post specific values from one model run  or copy someone else’s forecasts. The “professional” news media that do this for likes I am ashamed of especially. There are enough things happening in the world to draw viewers to your stations. Why not let good journalism bring in your following? Leave weather out of it. 

      I do want to touch on snow fall maps a little more. Maybe not the maps specifically, but the forecasting that goes behind creating a non-computer generated plot. Forecasters such as myself use a range in numbers. These ranges are usually 1-3 values apart with the lowest being what we are most confident in achieving to the highest being where our uncertainty comes into play. For example, if I tell a location they can expect 2-4″ of snow, that means I expect at least 2″ of snow with as much as 4″ possible. Many times I see the general public latch onto the highest total value whether that is wind speed, snow fall total, or even temperature. I can count on at least 5 comments any given event from people who see the highest value and think that is what they will receive. Please try to remember that ranges are generally from the most predictable [low end] to most variable [high end]. Why are there ranges? There is no such thing as a perfect forecast! 

      I used to believe I was one of the more accurate sources for forecasts in our state. I had many fans and followers complimenting me saying I was never wrong. As much of a compliment as that is, I have an issue with it. To be never wrong would mean I was perfect. I still have a lot of meteorology to learn. The only way I will learn is if I fail. So no, I am not afraid of failure. It may not be right 100% of the time, hell I am probably not right 40% of the time. I can say with certainty that I try each and every forecast I make. I do tout myself as one of (if not) the best resource to receive weather information in our state.  I want to get the word out there to all of you. I refuse to post erroneous information or the latest model hype. There is no room for that in meteorology. There is no room for that on my business page. 

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About Danny Neal

Danny is a storm chaser from the southside of Chicago and has been chasing since 1998. He has over 100 tornadoes documented as well as numerous other extreme weather events. He routinely teaches and trains others about severe and unusual weather and is considered a great resource for Northern Illinois. As a partner with NOAA, he spends most of his time assisting the National Weather Service Chicago during severe weather operations