Weather forecasting

Forecast of surface pressures five days into the future for the North Pacific, North America, and the North Atlantic Ocean

Weather forecasting is the application of science and technology to predict the conditions of the atmosphere for a given location and time. Human beings have attempted to predict the weather informally for millennia and formally since the 19th century. Weather forecasts are made by collecting quantitative data about the current state of the atmosphere at a given place and using meteorology to project how the atmosphere will change.

Once a human-only endeavor based mainly upon changes in barometric pressure, current weather conditions, and sky condition, weather forecasting now relies on computer-based models that take many atmospheric factors into account. [1] Human input is still required to pick the best possible forecast model to base the forecast upon, which involves pattern recognition skills, teleconnections, knowledge of model performance, and knowledge of model biases. The inaccuracy of forecasting is due to the chaotic nature of the atmosphere, the massive computational power required to solve the equations that describe the atmosphere, the error involved in measuring the initial conditions, and an incomplete understanding of atmospheric processes. Hence, forecasts become less accurate as the difference between current time and the time for which the forecast is being made (the range of the forecast) increases. The use of ensembles and model consensus help narrow the error and pick the most likely outcome.

There are a variety of end uses to weather forecasts. Weather warnings are important forecasts because they are used to protect life and property. Forecasts based on temperature and precipitation are important to agriculture, and therefore to traders within commodity markets. Temperature forecasts are used by utility companies to estimate demand over coming days. On an everyday basis, people use weather forecasts to determine what to wear on a given day. Since outdoor activities are severely curtailed by heavy rain, snow and wind chill, forecasts can be used to plan activities around these events, and to plan ahead and survive them. In 2014, the US spent $5.1 billion on weather forecasting. [2]

History

Ancient forecasting

For millennia people have tried to forecast the weather. In 650 BC, the Babylonians predicted the weather from cloud patterns as well as astrology. In about 350 BC, Aristotle described weather patterns in Meteorologica. [3] Later, Theophrastus compiled a book on weather forecasting, called the Book of Signs. [4] Chinese weather prediction lore extends at least as far back as 300 BC, [5] which was also around the same time ancient Indian astronomers developed weather-prediction methods. [6] In New Testament times, Christ himself referred to deciphering and understanding local weather patterns, by saying, "When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red', and in the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." [7]

In 904 AD, Ibn Wahshiyya's Nabatean Agriculture discussed the weather forecasting of atmospheric changes and signs from the planetary astral alterations; signs of rain based on observation of the lunar phases; and weather forecasts based on the movement of winds. [8]

Ancient weather forecasting methods usually relied on observed patterns of events, also termed pattern recognition. For example, it might be observed that if the sunset was particularly red, the following day often brought fair weather. This experience accumulated over the generations to produce weather lore. However, not all[ which?] of these predictions prove reliable, and many of them have since been found not to stand up to rigorous statistical testing. [9]

Modern methods

The Royal Charter sank in an 1859 storm, stimulating the establishment of modern weather forecasting.

It was not until the invention of the electric telegraph in 1835 that the modern age of weather forecasting began. [10] Before that, the fastest that distant weather reports could travel was around 100 miles per day (160 km/d), but was more typically 40–75 miles per day (60–120 km/day) (whether by land or by sea). [11] [12] By the late 1840s, the telegraph allowed reports of weather conditions from a wide area to be received almost instantaneously, [13] allowing forecasts to be made from knowledge of weather conditions further upwind.

The two men credited with the birth of forecasting as a science were officer of the Royal Navy Francis Beaufort and his protégé Robert FitzRoy. Both were influential men in British naval and governmental circles, and though ridiculed in the press at the time, their work gained scientific credence, was accepted by the Royal Navy, and formed the basis for all of today's weather forecasting knowledge. [14] [15]

Beaufort developed the Wind Force Scale and Weather Notation coding, which he was to use in his journals for the remainder of his life. He also promoted the development of reliable tide tables around British shores, and with his friend William Whewell, expanded weather record-keeping at 200 British Coast guard stations.

Robert FitzRoy was appointed in 1854 as chief of a new department within the Board of Trade to deal with the collection of weather data at sea as a service to mariners. This was the forerunner of the modern Meteorological Office. [15] All ship captains were tasked with collating data on the weather and computing it, with the use of tested instruments that were loaned for this purpose. [16]

Weather map of Europe, December 10, 1887.

A storm in 1859 that caused the loss of the Royal Charter inspired FitzRoy to develop charts to allow predictions to be made, which he called "forecasting the weather", thus coining the term "weather forecast". [16] Fifteen land stations were established to use the new telegraph to transmit to him daily reports of weather at set times leading to the first gale warning service. His warning service for shipping was initiated in February 1861, with the use of telegraph communications. The first daily weather forecasts were published in The Times in 1861. [15] In the following year a system was introduced of hoisting storm warning cones at the principal ports when a gale was expected. [17] The "Weather Book" which FitzRoy published in 1863 was far in advance of the scientific opinion of the time.

As the electric telegraph network expanded, allowing for the more rapid dissemination of warnings, a national observational network was developed, which could then be used to provide synoptic analyses. Instruments to continuously record variations in meteorological parameters using photography were supplied to the observing stations from Kew Observatory – these cameras had been invented by Francis Ronalds in 1845 and his barograph had earlier been used by FitzRoy. [18] [19]

To convey accurate information, it soon became necessary to have a standard vocabulary describing clouds; this was achieved by means of a series of classifications first achieved by Luke Howard in 1802, and standardized in the International Cloud Atlas of 1896.

Numerical prediction

It was not until the 20th century that advances in the understanding of atmospheric physics led to the foundation of modern numerical weather prediction. In 1922, English scientist Lewis Fry Richardson published "Weather Prediction By Numerical Process", [20] after finding notes and derivations he worked on as an ambulance driver in World War I. He described therein how small terms in the prognostic fluid dynamics equations governing atmospheric flow could be neglected, and a finite differencing scheme in time and space could be devised, to allow numerical prediction solutions to be found.

Richardson envisioned a large auditorium of thousands of people performing the calculations and passing them to others. However, the sheer number of calculations required was too large to be completed without the use of computers, and the size of the grid and time steps led to unrealistic results in deepening systems. It was later found, through numerical analysis, that this was due to numerical instability. [21] The first computerised weather forecast was performed by a team composed of American meteorologists Jule Charney, Philip Thompson, Larry Gates, and Norwegian meteorologist Ragnar Fjørtoft, applied mathematician John von Neumann, and ENIAC programmer Klara Dan von Neumann. [22] [23] [24] Practical use of numerical weather prediction began in 1955, [25] spurred by the development of programmable electronic computers.

Broadcasts

George Cowling (above) presented the first in-vision forecast on January 11, 1954, for the BBC.

The first ever daily weather forecasts were published in The Times on August 1, 1861, and the first weather maps were produced later in the same year. [26] In 1911, the Met Office began issuing the first marine weather forecasts via radio transmission. These included gale and storm warnings for areas around Great Britain. [27] In the United States, the first public radio forecasts were made in 1925 by Edward B. "E.B." Rideout, on WEEI, the Edison Electric Illuminating station in Boston. [28] Rideout came from the U.S. Weather Bureau, as did WBZ weather forecaster G. Harold Noyes in 1931.

The world's first televised weather forecasts, including the use of weather maps, were experimentally broadcast by the BBC in 1936. This was brought into practice in 1949 after World War II. George Cowling gave the first weather forecast while being televised in front of the map in 1954. [29] [30] In America, experimental television forecasts were made by James C Fidler in Cincinnati in either 1940 or 1947 on the DuMont Television Network. [28] [31] In the late 1970s and early 80s, John Coleman, the first weatherman on ABC-TV's Good Morning America, pioneered the use of on-screen weather satellite information and computer graphics for television forecasts. [32] Coleman was a co-founder of The Weather Channel (TWC) in 1982. TWC is now a 24-hour cable network. Some weather channels have started broadcasting on live broadcasting programs such as YouTube and Periscope to reach more viewers. One Meteorologist, Jeff Matthews, transformed the medium from forecasting live during television broadcasts to forecasting live on Periscope under the name of " Weathertainment", becoming the first meteorologist to deliver daily forecasts on a life-streaming application...and thus, making weather forecasting, interactive, for the public.

Other Languages
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беларуская: Прагноз надвор’я
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dansk: Vejrudsigt
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íslenska: Veðurspá
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日本語: 天気予報
norsk nynorsk: Vêrvarsling
português: Previsão do tempo
Simple English: Weather forecast
slovenčina: Predpoveď počasia
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Vremenska prognoza
svenska: Väderprognos
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українська: Прогноз погоди
Tiếng Việt: Dự báo thời tiết
文言: 天氣預報
中文: 天气预报