Head Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on October 16, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

In a rant about how useless weather forecasts are, New England Patriots football coach Bill Belichick says he’d last about a week in his job if he performed at the level of meteorologists. Belichick’s comments are typical of those ignorant about  how accurate weather forecasters actually are.

Here are Belichick’s comments, courtesy the Early Lead blog (which obtained these via Boston’s CBS affiliate):

I’m just telling you — if I did my job the way they do theirs, I’d be here about a week. Based on the forecasts we’ve gotten so far this year, none of them have been close to what game conditions were. There was 100 percent chance of rain last week, and the only water I saw was on the Gatorade table. It is what it is.

My experience going with the forecast in this area, two days before the game, I’d bet a lot that they’re wrong — just based on history, because they’re almost always wrong. An hour before the game? Maybe. You might have something to work with there. But if you start game-planning for what the weather is going to be, and you game-plan wrong, you’ve wasted a lot of time. When you walk out on the field, that’s really when you know what it is. The rest of it really is just a lot of hot air.

We all make mistakes. I’m not being critical of them. I don’t think you can [prepare] based on that [Friday forecast].

Belichick paints too broad a brush in his take down of weather forecasters and shows no appreciation for the complexity of prediction.

I fully admit forecasting the timing and coverage of rain is difficult more than a few hours in advance in certain cases. For example, the location and intensity of thunderstorms are often hard to predict more than a few hours ahead of time. Think of boiling a pot of hot water and trying to figure out where a bubble will pop and how big it will be. That’s thunderstorm forecasting.

For many larger scale weather systems like fronts and strong low pressure areas, we can confidently and accurately predict precipitation timing and coverage 48 hours (or more) in advance.

As a celebrated football tactician, Belichick might do well to gain an understanding of what kinds of forecasts meteorologists have confidence in to give his team an edge in preparation.

When Belichick points to specific forecasts he says were completely wrong, I wonder where he was getting them from. Is it from a trusted source who explains what aspects of the forecasts they are confident about, or is he hearing a forecast on the radio from a DJ with no training in meteorology pulling the forecast from some unknown source off the internet?

For important medical advice, do you trust the internet and Web MD, or consult your physician?

Perhaps if Belichick found a go-to source for weather information who explained to him the level of complexity of a forecast and the level of confidence, he would be better served.

The science of meteorology has made tremendous strides in the last few decades. Our 3 day forecasts are now about as accurate as 1 day forecast in the 1980s.


The skill of model forecasts over time (human forecasts often improve on models) from the National Weather Service , from the 1950s to 2012

Charlotte broadcast meteorologist Brad Panovich recently wrote a wonderful perspective on how successful meteorologists actually are compared to other professions that involve prediction, diagnosis and competition. He notes that his 1-day temperature forecasts have 94 percent accuracy. Even in the notoriously difficult to forecast United Kingdom, high temperature forecasts are accurate with 4 degrees (F, or 2 degrees C) 90 percent of the time, according to the UK Met Office.

Belichick seems to fall for the tired old myth that meteorologists are the only professionals who can keep their jobs and be right only half the time.

“I will say that meteorologists across the industry have heard such jabs [as Belichick’s] before, but the only thing wrong is the old cliche that meteorologists are always wrong,” said National Weather Service spokesperson Chris Vaccaro with respect to Belichick’s comments. “Not to say there aren’t challenges with certain weather scenarios, especially for weather-sensitive events, but accurate and timely forecasts throughout the Weather Enterprise are much more common than not.”

Consider weather forecasts are about 90 percent accurate one day into the future and closing in on the 70 percent range three days into the future.  Compare those statistics with Belichick’s career winning percentage  around 66 percent, ranking third in NFL history among coaches with 150 or more wins. So Belichick, one of the best at his craft, has “won” on average less than meteorologists.

Charlotte’s Panovich has some sage perspective on professional success that I’ll conclude with:

Whatever job or career you have. Think about the times you messed up. Some small, some large, but usually always correctable. Think about the mistakes that happen in everyone’s line of work that have nothing to do with predicting the future. Then realizing how far we [as weather forecasters] have come and how awesome it is that in 2014 we can get the 24 hour forecast correct 94% of the time and give you on average 12 minutes warning before a tornado hits. It amazes me and I work as a Meteorologist.