Who Needs a Meteorologist? I Have A Smartphone! How Flawed Public Trust in Increased Technology Is Literally Destroying Weather Forecasting Jobs
As a meteorologist, I’ve been a long-time opponent to weather cell phone applications. I don’t watch The Weather Channel, I take local news weather reports with a grain of salt, and I purposely still own, and use, a flip-phone.
With high-definition weather info at our fingertips…what’s the point of a weatherman? In fact, many TV stations…even The Weather Company (parent company of The Weather Channel recently bought by IBM) is employing broadcasters, computer technicians, and social scientists as so-called “meteorologists”. Let me be very clear: They are NOT meteorologists. Below is a "meteorologist" opening for a Sinclair Brodcasting TV Station in Pensacola:
But, large companies like IBM are simply allowed to do this because of society’s desire of finger-tip access to data and excitement in a “weather show” over, well, reality.
While computers and technology continue to improve to the point where, on fair-weather days, computers can, within reason, accurately predict the weather without human interaction. I still believe that there is something to be said for a meteorologist’s oversight on even these forecasts, but certainly if there are no clouds in the sky and its July, in the desert, how difficult is it to forecast that afternoon’s temperature? Hot.
But, there are many, many aspects of weather forecasting that computers are far from capable, such as severe weather, like hail storms, flash flooding, and tornadoes. Meteorologists, not computer scientists and TV broadcasters, need to analyze forecast model data and create an actionable forecast for these events.
American society has put too much confidence in technology, and is very quickly neglecting scientific reasoning and understanding. I’m a meteorologist, I examine and analyze the raw, unaltered computer forecasts models every day. It’s just data…a derivative of simply 0’s and 1’s…and sometimes, the output is literally junk, but only a meteorologist would recognize it as junk. If it were ingested into a cell phone application…the output would be wrong, in some cases, dangerously wrong, but the user would have no idea.
Companies like IBM, and nearly every broadcasting agency…are all introducing extremely dangerous solutions. The Weather Company, for instance, hires about four non-meteorologists for every one meteorologist. Even a high-level operations chief at The Weather Company stated in an interview with ArsTechinca.com that “There’s no doubt that the trend in the big picture is less of a pedigree on solely meteorology, and more of a pedigree on meteorology plus analytics or data sciences or other related areas.” In other words, the science doesn’t matter…it’s how many “clicks” we get on our website and how many “likes” we get on Facebook. How much money we bring in. The Weather Company is more interested in how customers use their data than they are about the data itself. Does anyone else see the problem here?
This is scary. I’ll put it in perspective. Could you imagine a tornado warning (data) that was issued not because of a tornado (whether or not it existed), but because a company found it financial conducive? Or better yet, a tornado warning that was not issued (that did occur) because some company had a cell-phone application builder at the desk that doesn’t know a thing about tornadoes?
If we continue to not employ meteorologists in meteorology jobs, this is exactly where we are headed. Big-name weather companies, solely out of financial interest, are attempting to not only overtake the weather forecasting role with technology that falsely eradicates the need of human meteorologists, but also takes a step further in providing decision-making consulting services…all via computer technology.
For instance, if you were a concrete worker, and you wanted to know how strong the wind would blow during the afternoon because you were concerned about concrete drying too rapidly…a phone application would alert you of winds becoming too strong. Great, in theory.
But, there’s two big problems. One, it’s just a computer talking, not an actual meteorologist. The forecast that you would be receiving may not have even been quality-checked by a meteorologist. Second, you can’t discuss your concrete-pouring activities with a smart phone application, but you can with a meteorologist that has a vested interest in you and your business.
The idea that meteorology isn’t very important, and that meteorologists aren’t necessary for weather science and forecasting is absurd. There’s already too stiff of a reliance on technology across-the-board in first-world societies. It is putting folks out of jobs at an exponential rate…mechanics, engineers, store clerks, book & music store employees, retail shop workers…ever wonder why the old blacksmith trade dissolved into thin air? Sure, catch up with the times. But meteorology…a science…will can never be fully comprehended or mastered, only improved upon by skilled meteorologists. It’s not meant to be a TV show or a phone application, for that matter. It’s a serious science that costs thousands of lives annually…and its meteorological skill that is the forefront of communicating deadly weather that should be the prized possession of weather companies, not their fancy web applications.
- Meteorologist Dan Schreiber
Dan Schreiber is a freelance meteorologist with experience