The New York Times interviewed Professor Cliff Mass, a renowned meteorologist employed by the University of Washington- Seatlle, and he believes that many, if not all of these inaccuracies can be attributed to the mis-managed, underfunded, and behind-the-times technology of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the parent organization which the National Weather Service (NWS) belongs.
Robby Herman, a blogger from BigThink.com, who according to his short bio, knows little about any science, not to mention dynamic weather modelling, also blogged about the aforementioned New York Times article on Professor Mass, re-stating the idea that if only NOAA were better funded and more technologically advanced, like several European counterparts, America's weather forecasts would improve to the level of certain European nations weather forecasts, like England.
Mr. Herman's blog post has many inaccuracies, and I can attest to that as an operational meteorologist. But, he does make a point that there are several foreign weather forecast models that have the physics package capable of producing highly accurate forecasts, above and beyond what many domestic American forecast models are capable of on a routine basis.
One of these is produced by the European Center for Medium-Range Forecasts (ECMWF), and it is indeed a fine forecast model. What neither Professor Mass nor Mr. Herman stated was that many operational meteorologists, including those with the National Weather Service, use this foreign forecast model side-by-side with the Canadian Meteorological Center (CMC) forecast model. and with domestic American forecast models, like the similar (but lower resolution) Global Forecast System (GFS) model. So, while some foreign forecast models may outperform, at times, American models...I hardly believe that we can simply blame lack of technology for incorrect weather forecasts.
Should our weather forecast computer models be improved to match the quality of other nations? Yes, and they are. NOAA is well on it's way to introducing a new weather forecasting model, known as the FV3, that should replace the current GFS by 2020 (but keep the same name, apparently).
Meanwhile, the United States Air Force has purchased access to the Unified Model, also known as the UKMET, from the English as well, instead of contributing to the improvement of in-house American forecast modelling systems. In fact, the Air Force has even begun to remove domestic weather models from it's forecasting user-interface...in essence an "out of site, out of mind" approach. The domestic models they are abandoning? One of them is the North American Model (NAM), a domestic NOAA-produced forecasting model with high-resolution capability- the same capabilities that Mr. Herman's blog stated were advantageous to the European forecasting models which are outperforming our lower-resolution GFS model. So, there's obviously more to the story than just simply computing power, perhaps having something to do with Meteosat-7, a European satellite nearing the end of it's life cycle over the war-torn Middle East, which the Department of Defense has no reasonable plans to replace. .
Computing power is certainly a contributing factor to both good and bad weather forecasts. Meteorologists simply just can't do their job without computers, and the better the technology, the higher the potential for an accurate weather forecast. But, can we just blame the computer?
Absolutely not! Even Professor Mass admitted that during a far-over-predicted snow storm in 2015, the National Weather Service forecaster "broke all the rules I teach my students". So, the computing power and technology was there - even Professor Mass, who is a top-advocate for improved forecasting models and higher-tech computing power, admits that the forecasters were to blame for inaccuracy. Computers, government funding, and technology are all simple scapegoat answers for the underlying problem.
This is the problem with technology. While it's beautiful, it also creates complacency & laziness.
Case in point, look at smart phones these days. How much information is stored on that device that used to be stored in people's heads? Notes, phone numbers, directions...all replaced by technology. I've met some folks who didn't even know their spouse's phone number by memory, but it was stored on their phone. In other words, we have so [too] much of a reliance on technology that we're losing track of our education, training, and personnel capabilities.
Inherently, the real problem with forecasting weather is the lack of responsibility in forecasting agencies, the lack of passion within many forecasters, and the lack of accountability by weather forecasting authorities. Weather forecasting is a battle, and even the best get forecasts wrong, at times. Unfortunately, and I've personally witnessed this through my career, some meteorologists have the mindset that it's "ok to be wrong"...as if weather forecasting is a baseball game and you get paid well to hit the ball and actually make it to first base during only 30% of your at-bats.
I'll put it this way. If you were in a doctor's office because of chest pain, and the doctor diagnosed you with a bruised rib, but the real problem was a heart malfunction, what would you blame, the medical technology or the doctor? The doctor, of course! He or she should have known that there was a substantial difference between the symptoms or a bruised rib and that of a heart attack, without even consulting medical computer technology.
The same can be said about meteorology and weather forecasting. How can we blame computing power for failing to forecast weather correctly? Simply by looking at current weather information (i.e. the symptoms), any decent weather forecaster has the training to assess the capabilities, reliability, and biases of the weather forecast models to be used to create a forecast.
The problem is the lack of internal accountability. Are weather forecasters being responsible and using their skills and training? Do the weather forecasts make sense, from a scientific perspective? How many trained eyes are there quality-checking forecasts before they are made official? What are some common mistakes made, and what can be done to eliminate them? Good questions to ask...and I can personally say that this sort of thing rarely happens.
Just like doctors have a responsibility to their patients, meteorologists must be held at the same level of responsibility to their clients...and the general public.
-Meteorologist Dan Schreiber
Dan Schreiber is a freelance meteorologist with experience