Glenn's Blog: Weather Ridiculousness From Almanacs to 'Rain Bombs' | NBC 10 Philadelphia

Glenn's Blog: Weather Ridiculousness From Almanacs to 'Rain Bombs'

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    United Airlines-Taking Science Back to Dark Ages
    (I’m not making this stuff up. I wouldn’t even joke about something this absurd)

    The CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, was quoted last week:

    "…we should definitely be prepped. A very quick example: Farmers’ Almanac is calling for a very nasty winter, particularly in Chicago-one of our main hubs. So as we speak, our operating team is hard at work as to how are we going to accommodate passengers."

    (He apparently wasn’t joking either)

    United Airlines is the 3rd biggest airline in the world, with $37.5 billion annual revenue. They also have a state-of-the-art Weather Forecasting Center in Chicago. They employ actual meteorologists with actual science degrees.

    Photo credit: AirwaysNews

    Obviously, Mr. Munoz didn’t ask his own meteorologists what they thought of the Farmer’s Almanac (or Old Farmer’s Almanac-they are separate publications). If he had, they would have either:
    A.    Laughed
    B.    Looked at him like he was crazy

    Yet he is actually planning to make decisions that will financially impact the company based on a publication with one of the worst reputations for accuracy in the meteorological world.

    How do I know they are so bad? I did an extensive research project while at Penn State, and verified decades of forecasts for multiple cities. The results: the forecasts were statistically significantly WORSE than even predicting average. That’s right-you can flip a coin and do better than what you read from these entertaining, yet lacking-forecast-accuracy publications.

    90-Day Forecast: For 'Suckers' Only

    Weather forecasting has improved steadily in recent decades, mainly due to better computer models. But nearly all meteorologists agree that predicting daily weather beyond two weeks just isn’t possible.

    Some people even questioned us when NBC10 became the first station in our area to do a 7-day forecast more than a dozen years ago. But before debuting it, we experimented for a full year behind the scenes to prove that we could do it with some degree of accuracy. We even showed some "skill" (a technical term) out to 10 days. Further research has allowed us to debut our "10 Days on 10" forecast in recent months.

    As if their widely ridiculed 45-day forecast wasn’t enough, the private weather company AccuWeather introduced their 90-day forecast in April of this year. Yes, they actually make a prediction for every day for the next three months. This includes specific temperatures, and even exact amounts of rain or snow. Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Except for the fact that there’s NO SCIENCE that allows that sort of precision forecasting that far out.  I’m not the only one saying such things. Here are some others commenting on the 45-day forecast from previous news articles:

    Dr. Cliff Mass, Professor of Meteorology: "There’s a whole literature on it…..There’s no doubt about it: there’s no forecast skill past two weeks of daily weather."

    Alison Bridger, San Jose State Dept. of Meteorology: "It’s inconceivable that they could know it’s going to be rainy in New York on May 9…”

    Others are even stronger in their disapproval:

    Dr. Steve Tracton: "..hyper-extended forecasts (undermine) the credibility of the science of meteorology. There cannot be skill at those ranges-it goes back to chaos theory."

    Jason Samenow -- Capital Weather Gang Chief Meteorologist: "AccuWeather calls its new 45-day weather forecast launched Monday 'revolutionary.' I call it a joke. In reality, it is simply peddling a useless product to people who don’t know better."

    AccuWeather describes its’ new 90-day forecast as "a valuable tool for planning further in advance, including the best time of the season for road trips, vacations, and outdoor activities. People should not use long-range forecasts as a strict guide, but rather look at how the weather patterns evolve."

    I occasionally get requests from viewers for a forecast months in advance-usually for a big event like an outdoor wedding or graduation. I always tell them that there’s no way to make such a prediction more than a couple of weeks in advance. Even questions about which weekend would be best for a vacation cannot be answered far ahead (at least with any level of accuracy).
    Many of these people are desperate -- they need an answer -- ANY ANSWER. Those are the people who go to the Old Farmer’s Almanac or a bogus 90-day forecast.

    In the words of Prof. Nolan Doesken from Colorado State: "From a customer perspective, there is a demand for this service whether it’s accurate or not."

    As the old saying goes: "There’s sucker born every minute."

    'Rain Bombs': The Latest Ridiculous Name

    "Bombogenesis" is a pretty funny sounding name. But it’s a real name that describes a real, quantifiable process. If a storm’s pressure lowers enough in 24 hours, meteorologists say it has undergone "Bombogenesis." But what in the world is a "rain bomb?"

    This is the picture that started it all (courtesy Bruce Haffner @chopperguyhd):

    Photo credit: Bruce Haffner

    OK, so it may look a little like an atomic bomb explosion – but it isn’t! Here’s what the real thing looks like:

    Smoke rises from Hiroshima, Japan.
    Photo credit: AP

    What some people are calling a "rain bomb" is actually a "wet microburst." You can look it up. It happens-not often, but it happens, especially in places like Arizona, where this one hit July 18.

    But this is the era of:
    1.    Having to come up with new, spectacular names for everything, and
    2.    Blaming everything on climate change

    Now, if you’ve read a few of my blogs, you know that I agree with the consensus on climate change. But the overall, accurate, worrisome forecasts for the future are made less credible by those looking to blame every kind of weather (severe or not) on climate change. This is what is known as "a stretch." And the biggest culprit in this case is Bloomberg.com, which often has accurate and responsible stories on the subject. How did this get by the editors? Extreme Weather: Deadly Tornadoes, Flooding in the SouthExtreme Weather: Deadly Tornadoes, Flooding in the South