As forecasters, we strive to communicate weather information effectively. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. Either way, we’re committed to making our forecasts as useful as they can be and improving them. But for the delivery of forecasts to be successful, you, the end-user, have a set of responsibilities in receiving them.
I’ve put together a list of five forecast user responsibilities. Read ahead, and let me know if you agree.
1) Know/consider the source of the forecasts you use and refer to: One of my pet peeves is when I hear someone refer to weather forecasters in the collective, i.e. “They’re saying...” My immediate response is, who is they? There are dozens of sources weather forecast information of varying quality. The forecast you hear on an FM music radio station, for example, may leave out important information or even misrepresent the source material used for the forecast. The forecast posted by your next door neighbor on Facebook calling for two feet of snow 10 days from now might also be suspect.
Your responsibility: Find trustworthy sources of weather information and stick with them. Disregard the noise.
2) Understand the limitations of weather forecasting: It’s really important to appreciate, while incredible progress has been made in the last three decades, weather forecasting remains an inexact science. Short-range forecasts tend to be quite good, but there are notable exceptions in complicated set-ups. Forecasts beyond 2-3 days begin to rapidly deteriorate in accuracy. Forecasts beyond 5-7 days have little skill.
While it’s the forecasters’ responsibility to communicate their confidence in given predictions, it’s your responsibility to have reasonable expectations and to understand there will be circumstances (hopefully rare) when forecasts go horribly wrong.
3) When it counts, obtain the full, detailed forecast: It’s easy to view an “express” forecast of 60% chance of rain or snow and come to the wrong conclusion about what’s going to happen. But, often, both TV forecasts and website weather pages/blogs offer in-depth information about the expected timing of precipitation, confidence in the forecast, and likely impacts. Particularly when you have an important weather-related decision to make, seek out and pay attention to the details so you’re relying on the best available information.
4) Wait until a storm is over before evaluating the accuracy of a forecast. Especially during storms, some draw conclusions about the validity of a forecast when the storm is just getting going and has yet to play out. It’s always best to reserve judgment about a forecast until the storm is over.
5) Engage and ask questions: Whereas a decade ago, access to those providing weather forecasts was limited, the internet via social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter) gives you unprecedented access to meteorologists (and educated weather enthusiasts) who can help you understand a forecast. One of the most satisfying parts of being a meteorologist is helping someone make a successful weather-related decision. Don’t be shy about reaching out.
Now that I’ve listed your responsibilities, feel free to let us know what you think our responsibilities are as forecasters in communicating to you.... I’ll summarize them in a future post. (Also feel free to let me know if you think I omitted any of your responsibilities).