Seven Unreasonable Expectations of Weather Forecasts

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Jeff Duda

Resident meteorological expert
Staff member
Oct 7, 2008
Broomfield, CO
Spread the word to all! Make sure the public understands these misconceptions about forecasting the weather!

The following is a summary/paraphrasing of this article: The Top 7 Most Unreasonable Expectations About Weather Forecasts

1) "Stop breaking into my TV show"
The FCC actually requires emergencies be broadcast on the airwaves.

2) Exactness/Precision
The science has not evolved to the point of being able to offer hyper-local/specific forecasts with absolute certainty beyond maybe a few minutes or a few hours, and the further out in time you go, the less certain a forecast at any spatial scale tends to be.

3) "It came without warning"
This remains a tired trope/cliché, probably propagated by journalists. The NWS is has a pretty good POD for most extreme weather events.

4) Mobile apps
These do not replace the NWS or your local meteorologist. Not to mention, the data these apps present almost certainly originated from the NWS or your local met, but without any modification or clarification.

5) The atmosphere is chaotic
There is a limit to predictability. I have personally seen this issue coming up among chasers the past few days lamenting about how poor the 384-hr GFS forecasts look. If you think the 384-hr forecast is lock-solid truth, then you don't understand this point.

6) "Anomaly"
The word has a different connotation in the sciences than it does to the layperson, but you need to compare your own local weather to your own local climate - one is the noise (weather) on the signal (climate). One varies rapidly within a day and from one day to the next. The other represents a longer-term average behavior. A +50 F anomaly in Alaska does not mean the same weather as a +50 F anomaly in Texas (or does a +50 F anomaly in January mean the same thing as a +50 F anomaly in May).

7) Folklore doesn't trump science
Without an understanding of the underlying observations or physics that resulted in folklore, most sayings risk being misused and misunderstood in a critical moment.
May 1, 2011
I overlapped a couple of these on YT video I made last month. "It came without warning" inspired it. But so did comments I get about 'severe weather doesn't happen until summer' or that 'It snowed the next day, this is weird'

This is also a pretty good article, but there are a few things I would have done a little differently. I don't think tornado forecasting necessarily needs to improve as being a higher priority than changing attitudes---people ignoring warnings. It doesn't matter if forecasting is perfect if people live in poorly anchored manufactured homes, have no weather radio, are convinced that it 'isn't warm enough outside for a tornado', or are waiting for the siren to blare before taking action.

And besides, if you want better warning lead times than we already have AND fewer false alarms than we already have, we are going to need to triple our radar density. If someone is going to say what we have now isn't aready good enough, put your money where your mouth is.