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All sources of weather information aren’t the same

2012-09-21 002

Quantity over Quality

I actually wrote this blog post originally 2 years ago before a rumored snow storm. It’s worth a redo and update even today.

People love weather there is no denying this and to appease people’s ever-increasing hunger for weather information everybody wants to offer you a forecast. In the information age that weather information is available everywhere, which in many ways is a good thing that you can get your weather information on various platforms. Those platforms include TV, Internet, Mobile Apps, Radio, Cable, Satellite and even print. Yet even within those platforms there are choices. These are distribution platforms of weather content, the problems arise in the source of this weather content on those platforms.  The average person doesn’t know how to make a forecast. To fill this void companies are mass producing weather information to distribute it to the masses on as a many platforms as possible. Since it’s impossible & impractical to hire the staff and expertise to make “quality” forecasts across so many platforms they turn to automation from computer models to provide the “quantity” of forecasts needed. The results are lots of forecasts made cheaply and often times with no quality control. Because some outlets use different models and update at different times you end up with wide-ranging forecasts across many platforms. This results in a whole bunch of very inaccurate forecasts due to the over-reliance on computer models and the lack of quality control. The biggest offenders right now are the stock weather apps for your smartphone. Which as my good friend James Spann calls “The Crap App Dilemma”.

Weather Models
I love computer models they are great tools for forecasting the weather, but they are not a forecast in and of  themselves. Meteorologists call weather models numerical guidance for a reason because they are there to help “guide” you in making a forecast. They are like tools in your toolbox to build a good forecast they don’t and shouldn’t do it for you. What’s that saying?,

if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

Listen there are times the models do very well and can make a good forecast but just like there are a million fast food places to grab a bite to eat. If you want a quality meal that’s good for you, you go to a sit down restaurant with an actual chef or you cook it at home. It’s a simple quality vs. quantity approach.

Being Local

Like politics all-weather is local! This is why the local meteorologists will always be superior to these mass-produced computer generated forecasts. I as a local forecaster have 22 counties I focus on in North and South Carolina on a everyday basis. I know every nook and cranny of this area, along with the activities going on in my community. These national forecasters are trying to crank out forecasts worldwide, how much time do you think they spend on the Charlotte forecast let alone the forecast for Huntersville, Lenoir, Waxhaw, Shelby, Boone, Kannapolis or your neighborhood? I know this area better than some computer or a person sitting at a desk 100’s or 1000’s of miles away. I also have the luxury of walking outside my house in South Charlotte and seeing if my forecast is working out or if I need to adjust on current trends. I also am driving, running, working, playing and in general dealing with the same weather my audience is because I live here too. I can relate to what’s going on because I’m here and not 100’s of miles away.

Being accountable & the myth of the always wrong weather person

You have probably told the joke or heard it about weather forecasters. “I wish I had a job where I could get paid to be wrong all the time!” You haven’t heard it nearly as much as me but funny thing about that is when I ask people where they get their forecast from when they say that joke. Their responses are usually, they don’t know or they say not me. I’ll tell you this if you think that the weather forecast is always wrong it’s time for you to get a new source of weather information. I strive to be the most accurate Meteorologist I can be and over the past 14 years have gotten many more forecasts right than wrong. I actually track my accuracy to keep myself honest and my 24 hour forecasts for temperatures and precipitation has been accurate 94.86% of the time for 2012, but I still blow a forecast occasionally. When I do blow the forecast guess what? You get to email me, Tweet me, Facebook me, call me and even yell at me in The Harris Teeter and give me hell. Plus I’ll actually e-mail you back, Reply on twitter or comment on Facebook to you, I’m accountable for my forecast. Try that with the guy making the forecast in Atlanta, Boston,State College or India! I say this because I take being accurate very seriously and often times I’m harder on myself when I don’t get the forecast exactly correct way more than anybody will ever know. So if you would not go to a doctor that never cured you or a mechanic that never fixes your car. Why in the world would you still watch or go to a source of weather information that is always wrong? You have choices people exercise them.

More engagement and less weather spam

The beauty of the information age and Social Media is you can engage more with the people and products you use. The weather forecast is the product and I am the person who brings it to you…..my customer. Engage with me and ask me for a specific forecast for your kid’s soccer game or the beach trip this weekend. I’ll respond within a reasonable amount of time and give you a quality forecast that you can use. Or just follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, My Blog, YouTube or wcnc.com and then turn on the TV at 4, 5 6&11. You’ll be able to have a two-way conversation with the guy who’s on your TV and get what you need…. a quality weather forecast. I too send out a large quantity of weather content, but I can give you quality. Stay clear of the weather spam you see online, on cable and on your phone. Much like lots of spam & junk mail out there they look appealing and promise you the world.  Yet in the end you’re stuck on a mailing list or with a virus. I say this all because of my passion for what I do and just enjoy people getting the best weather information possible. Don’t settle for anything less.

  • @brentlevi

    As a fellow meteorologist I often find myself defending meteorologist in general due to the terrible forecasts that are out there. Every meteorologist knows that you almost never use the straight model data but this is what many of these websites and applications are using. People need to understand that a good meteorologist will select the tool for the situation. Knowing how the models are performing and their biases allows a meteorologist to select and interpret the most accurate model’s data more correctly and create a more accurate forecast. Keep up the good work educating the public!

    Also, the next time someone says that they’d like to be paid to be wrong, ask them “who do you know that can accurately predict the future 94.86% of the time?” If they say their stock broker, please get their number for me!

  • Brad

    Thanks, and great comment!

  • M White

    You are my "go to" weatherman. I rely on you for accurate and up to date forecasts. You are by far the best of the best! I have lived in many states and no one compares to you. No, you're not perfect and sometimes you're wrong, but not very often and it's usually just a minor thing. Keep up the great work!

  • Brad

    Thanks M White!

  • ewinterbo

    I always go to you to get my ski forecast!! Although, I must say, I hope you are wrong in your forecast for January!!!!

  • Brad

    ewinterbo, me too!!! the whole month won't be a thaw but I see a 1-2 week warm period after the first of the year with cold arriving late month.

  • ewinterbo

    Ohhh, that is just what I was looking for! I am going to hold you to that! Make sure you post if it changes, please!

  • Brad

    Updated ski forecast coming tomorrow over at skisoutheast.com

  • Kristie

    Great post!

  • Garrett

    You couldn't have said it better! Congrats on the 94.86 % as well!

  • Scott

    Everything you said in this blog is why you are The Man in the Charlotte area, or probably any geographical area you choose to work. But I hope you continue to choose this area for a very long time. As a meteorologist "wanna be" I can appreciate not only your accuracy, but especially your efforts to go above and beyond in getting out weather facts and figures. Thank you.

    • wxbrad

      Thank You.

  • Brad

    Thank you everyone for the great feedback, hard to believe but this has been my most view blog entry of all time. This morning noticed it had already about 1,000 page views, wow! I'm sure I'll surpass that with my white Christmas blog next week, no we likely won't have one but I'll tell you why.

  • Terence Fails

    When I digest the various weather sources, the first this I notice is that many sources seem to crank up the gain on their radars. The radar shows that you are being rained on when there is no precip at all.

    The TV stations also like to extrapolate the path and timing of severe thunderstorms i.e. “The storm will hit Bugtussle at 7:53!” Look out the window from 7:43-8:03- nothing. (I don’t look outside for tornado warnings.)

    These activities lull people into a false sense of security.

    • wxbrad

      Terence radar returns aren’t always rain remember. The radar bounces off of bugs, birds, temperatures inversions etc.. That’s why a trained professional needs to analyse and interpret the radar data. The storm tracks should never be used as a precise time but as general timing. Storms motion, size changes rapidly over time.

  • Oriolesbaseball

    Great article Brad!

  • Anonymous

    You may not feel like it, but you are someone that people look up to. I’m a weather enthusiast finally in college to fulfill my childhood dream as a meteorologist. Your passion for weather and interaction with the public far surpasses most and it is very admirable. You care about the people listening, asking questions, etc.

    People still make fun of me by saying I’m lucky to be studying for a job where I get paid to be wrong all the time, but never fired, lol!!!

    • wxbrad

      Thank you that is very nice of you say. Stick with your passion it will take you far!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002135728072 Stuart McDaniel

    Your still the best Brad!!!

    • wxbrad

      thanks!

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