Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

CNHI Special Projects

April 17, 2013

Everybody talks about the weather, but it's not easy to predict

I remember my first-grade teacher, Ms. Neely, telling our class that "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." I now understand that this old saw is based on the fact that winter turns to spring during the month, but I grew up outside Syracuse, N.Y., where even late March tends to be quite leonine, so it baffled me endlessly as a child.

In Washington this year, March managed to go out in a vaguely lamb-ish way. A string of warmer days at the end still left the average temperature for the month at 43.8 degrees, according to National Weather Service data, three degrees below the historical average and considerably cooler than recent years. The average temperature last March was a record-high 56.8.

Large temperature variations from year to year have significant implications, most obviously for farmers and gardeners but also for utility companies estimating energy use, city managers budgeting for snow and sports teams worrying about scheduling. Are we getting any better at predicting the weather weeks or months in advance?

Before getting to the science, it's important to recognize that there have been false starts and inflated claims in the business of long-term weather forecasting.

Consider the most famous American weather prognosticators, the Farmers' Almanac, published in Lewiston, Maine, and the Old Farmer's Almanac, produced in Dublin, N.H. The writers of these venerable books claim to use top-secret formulas, and followers of the New Hampshire version claim it is 80 percent accurate.

It's impossible, however, to fully assess the books' accuracy, because many of their predictions read like a meteorological fortune cookie: vague enough to accommodate a wide range of weather. Both publications, for example, tend to make such predictions as "sunny, cool" in four- or five-day chunks. In any given workweek, there are usually periods of sun and some temperature variation. Does that make the prediction correct?

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CNHI Special Projects
  • Norman-Tornado16.jpg Audio: How can we better prepare for tornadoes?

    An NPR broadcast examines the question of how communities can better prepare for tornadoes like the one that struck Moore, Okla. on Monday. The broadcast features commentary from Michael Fitzgerald, who reported a five-part disaster series for the CNHI News Service.

    May 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • Norman-Tornado08.jpg Photos: Aftermath of massive tornado in Moore Storm victims were pulled from the rubble and residents began surveying the damage late Monday and early Tuesday in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, where a powerful tornado destroyed entire neighborhoods and left dozens dead.

    May 21, 2013

  • MainStory5.IndyQuakeDrill.jpg The Big One: Preparing for mid-America earthquake

    It’s a bleak scenario. A massive earthquake along the New Madrid fault kills or injures 60,000 people in Tennessee. A quarter of a million people are homeless.

    May 19, 2013 3 Photos 3 Stories

  • screenshot salmon.jpg VIDEO: How sequestration could affect US flood warning system

    Oregon and Idaho each had to shut down three water gauges due to automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration. Watch how Idaho relies on these water gauges, from tracking drought conditions to determining stream levels for salmon.

    May 15, 2013 1 Photo

  • MainStory4.ForneyTornadoDamage.JPG Warning Signs: Technology speeds disaster alerts, response

    Technology has changed the way Americans get ready for disasters and respond to them – with more precise forecasts, personalized weather warnings and more efficient recovery efforts. And it will continue to help us be more prepared.

    May 12, 2013 3 Photos

  • Screen shot 2013-05-10 at 3.40.47 PM.png VIDEO: High-tech storm prediction center warns residents of tornadoes

    At the National Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., the team of meteorologists charged with predicting when and where tornadoes may strike rely on ever-changing technology to get the job done.

    May 12, 2013 1 Photo

  • Screen shot 2013-05-10 at 5.11.06 PM.png VIDEO: Misconceptions about predicting tornadoes

    National Weather Center personnel Lans Rothfusz and David Andra speak about the misconceptions the public may have when it comes to the National Storm Prediction Center in Norman.

    May 11, 2013 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 3.33.54 PM.png VIDEO: Take an inside look at storm prediction center

    National Weather Center personnel Lans Rothfusz and David Andra give viewers an idea of the day-to-day happenings at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

    May 9, 2013 1 Photo

  • 800px-Haiti_earthquake_damage.jpg When the earth moves under our feet

    One of the most breath-taking geologic events is a major earthquake. In just a few moments, shaking of the Earth can result in billions of dollars of damage and thousands of lives lost.

    May 8, 2013 1 Photo

  • 20110524_Chickasha Tornado2.jpg When in a tornado, here's what not to do

    Highway overpasses are widely thought to be a last-minute refuge from a tornado, thanks in part to this 1991 video. But, meteorologists say, taking shelter beneath a bridge is probably the last place you want to be when a tornado strikes.

    May 7, 2013 1 Photo

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