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K12 LibreTexts

11.17: Predicting Weather

  • Page ID
    5524
  • Does a picnic bring rain?

    Weather forecasts are better than they ever have been. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a 5-day weather forecast today is as reliable as a 2-day forecast was 20 years ago. Now there's no excuse to be rained out on a picnic!

    Numerical Weather Prediction

    The most accurate weather forecasts are made by advanced computers, with analysis and interpretation added by experienced meteorologists. These computers have up-to-date mathematical models that can use much more data and make many more calculations than would ever be possible by scientists working with just maps and calculators. Meteorologists can use these results to give much more accurate weather forecasts and climate predictions.

    In Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP), atmospheric data from many sources are plugged into supercomputers running complex mathematical models (Figure below). The models then calculate what will happen over time at various altitudes for a grid of evenly spaced locations. The grid points are usually between 10 and 200 kilometers apart. Using the results calculated by the model, the program projects weather further into the future. It then uses these results to project the weather still further into the future, as far as the meteorologists want to go. Once a forecast is made, it is broadcast by satellites to more than 1,000 sites around the world.

    Map of a weather forecast

    A weather forecast using numerical weather prediction.

    NWP produces the most accurate weather forecasts, but as anyone knows, even the best forecasts are not always right.

    Weather prediction is extremely valuable for reducing property damage and even fatalities. If the proposed track of a hurricane can be predicted, people can try to secure their property and then evacuate (Figure below).

    Weather prediction for Hurricane Rita

    By predicting Hurricane Rita’s path, it is likely that lives were saved.

    Further Reading

    Collecting Weather Data

    Summary

    • Meteorologists use computers to crank data through mathematical models to forecast the weather.
    • Numerical weather prediction calculates what will happen to conditions horizontally and vertically over an area.
    • Weather forecasts can go further into the future than ever.

    Review

    1. What is numerical weather prediction?
    2. Even with numerical weather prediction, meteorologists have a difficult time predicting the path of a hurricane more than a day or two into the future. Why?
    3. One popular online weather prediction site goes 10 days out and another goes 15 days out. Why the discrepancy?

    Explore More

    Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

    1. Explain how scientists monitor weather above Earth.
    2. What is numerical weather prediction?
    3. What is the purpose of the Meteor Satellite?