Here at the Capital Weather Gang, we’ve offered scathing criticism of AccuWeather’s long-range forecasts. After publishing Jon Nese’s analysis yesterday, which found AccuWeather’s high temperature forecasts 10 or more days into the future had “negative skill”, I thought it was only fair to give AccuWeather a chance to respond.
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I spoke with Evan Myers, AccuWeather’s chief operating officer – who vigorously stood up for its forecasts and their legitimacy.
Myers’ comments focused on the overall value of providing 45-day forecasts, rather than Nese’s critique, which he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to review in-depth. He simply stressed the Nese analysis was limited in that in involved “a very small subset of data” (high temperature forecasts in 15 cities over three months) and didn’t examine low temperatures and precipitation.
The thrust of Myers’ rationale for providing a 45-day forecasts is customer demand and satisfaction.
“Success is whether people are looking at it and coming back,” Myers said. “We see [Web site] traffic [for forecasts] over 20-25 days [into the future] has continually built. We feel if public didn’t find any value [in the long-range forecasts], it would whither away and we’d remove it.”
When pressed about providing forecasts which might be less accurate than simple historical averages, Myers countered the daily long-range updates allow site visitors to keep their hands of pulse of evolving forecasts.
“[Web site users] look at it [the forecasts] for trends to get an idea of what’s happening,” Myers said. “People can check back every day or two, and see what’s going on.”
He pushed back against criticism from some in the meteorological community.
“When you’re in the communications enterprise, it’s a fine line you walk,” he said. “You have to provide information and value. You’re beholden to your customers/readers, not beholden to experts.”
Myers emphasized the public has a right to the forecasts.
“We have the information, there’s no reason public shouldn’t have it,” Myers said. “We didn’t feel like we should be withholding information.”
I asked Myers about whether AccuWeather might alter the way it presents long-range forecast information, so that it might not appear so definitive, given its apparent limitations.
He said it’s sticking with the existing approach, which provides detailed forecasts out to 45 days, with no information about the uncertainty or level of confidence.
“People want to see things most specifically,” Myers said. “That’s the feedback we got and that’s how we’ve proceeded.”
“You could put disclaimers on all sorts of forecasts,” he added. “Nate Silver says most experts are wrong about most things they say. Those [experts] don’t issue disclaimers. The public makes the decision. If people look at it and come back and come back, they’ve decided it has value…”