The Dilution of Expert Weather Forecasting:
Technology is becoming more and more overwhelming these days. Instead of waiting for the evening television broadcast to see what the weather will be, you can simply look at your cellular phone for weather anywhere in the world.
It’s particularly discouraging for a meteorologist like myself to see such an interesting, expansive science, and a highly complicated and mentally intensive trade like weather forecasting, be diluted by cell phones, wrist watches, and web apps.
Furthermore, in many cases, TV weather-casters are broadcasters by trade, not skilled meteorologists. Graphic designers of smartphone weather applications are just that- designers, not scientists. While they may have great interest in the science of meteorology, their expertise lies within design, or broadcasting, or looking good on TV, or in social networking- not in delivering the most accurate weather to the populous.
As a meteorologist, I think one thing should be very clear: It doesn’t matter how accessible it is, or how you dress it up…if the weather forecast isn’t accurate and properly communicated, it’s only misguiding, and potentially endangering people.
What Being a Meteorologist Really Takes
First and foremost, it takes education to do the meteorology job the best that it can be done. Sure, there are many folks out there working in some facets of meteorology without a degree, but education is key. If weather forecasting was as simple as reading a couple lines of data off a computer screen, then everyone could be a meteorologist (and we’d never have any wrong forecasts). But, it takes an understanding of complex physics, math, dynamics, chemistry, geography, even biology! You don’t need a college degree, but you must be educated.
All of that education doesn’t amount to much more than a pile of practically useless knowledge unless you know how to apply it…and that’s what you get with experience. No meteorologist ever shines right out of the bag…meteorology is something that must be applied to be fully learned. Again, if it was as simple as reading a textbook and applying the method, anyone could pick it up instantaneously and do it. But, it’s not. Experience is crucial.
Forecasting weather is an art that has no clear correct answer, until it happens. That’s one of the main reasons many people leave the career field behind- it’s never perfectly cut-and-dry. Because meteorology is so dependent on so many natural and man-made variables, and no two weather patterns are exactly alike…it takes a lot of thinking outside the box. There is no “user’s guide” for meteorologists- you must think, sometimes hard and deep, and never really be totally confident until the time passes.
It doesn’t matter how great of a forecast a meteorologist makes, if it wasn’t communicated correctly, it was wrong. If I told you that It was going to rain this weekend, but didn’t tell you anything else, that wouldn’t help you out very much. If I told you that we would have red flag conditions, and you weren’t a fire-fighter or a forest ranger, you likely wouldn’t know what I was talking about.
The key to a successful meteorologist’s job is to decode data, turn that data into information, then transform that information into knowledge, and then communicate that knowledge to the point that it is understood by all. You have to know who you are talking to, how it impacts them, and how you can help them make the best decision from a meteorological standpoint.
An effective meteorologist never really quits. Just like a police officer who is always on duty, whether they like it or not, or wear the badge and gun or not, the best meteorologists are always somewhat aware of what is going on with the weather. The Weather Channel’s “Weather Geeks” term wasn’t created by them…it’s a real thing that describes a passionate meteorologist.
Weather doesn’t stop when it’s quitting time. It doesn’t take holiday breaks (or even lunch break). As a meteorologist, you may have the day off, but not everyone does, and the weather may be impacting them. A great meteorologists doesn’t have to be at work all the time, they just need to be aware, alert, and constantly have their customers, clients, and general public in mind.
A passionate meteorologist learns from their not-so-great forecasts. A passionate meteorologist learns from the mistakes of others, and applies new methods and approaches to ensure discrepancies are fixed the next time around. A passionate meteorologist isn’t always perfect, but is trusted because of their dedication to be accurate, to clearly communicate, and become more and more of an expert.
-Dan, the Weatherman
Dan Schreiber is an operational meteorologist, with experience