Weather Tech: How Scientific Advancements Have Improved Forecasts

Posted: February 17, 2022

Science has advanced so much over the last few decades that it’s easy to take it for granted and overlook the impact these advancements have on our lives. Scientific advancements make our lives easier, better and safer everyday. Don’t believe us? Let’s look at a daily interaction almost all of us have with science, one that helps us decide what to wear, what to bring with us and what to plan for several days from now.

One of the most common ways we use science every day is checking the weather forecast. In fact, whether it’s on TV, the newspaper, through the radio, on social media or through apps, US adults check the weather over 300 BILLION times per year. This means your local meteorologist and their forecast might be the most consistent engagement with a scientist you and your family experience throughout the year.

The science of weather forecasting has drastically changed and improved over the last 40 years. This includes everything from the instruments used to make measurements of weather conditions and computer programs that represent the natural world to the green-screen technology that makes for more informative–and sometimes silly–forecasts.

One particularly important example? Hurricane forecasts. Today, three-day advanced predictions of hurricane paths are more accurate than 24-hour forecasts were in the 1970s and 1980s. There’s no doubt many more lives are saved and properties protected from damage by having three times as many days to prepare for a hurricane! This is especially critical today and into the future, as we’re continuing to see stronger and more damaging hurricanes each year driven by the warmer ocean temperatures brought on by human-caused climate change.

You may say “Well, that may be true for big storms like hurricanes, but what about just day-to-day weather? It was supposed to snow three inches but we only got one!”

While meteorologists take a lot of heat when snow forecasts are off, consider this: today, a five-day weather forecast like the one you can see on your phone is as accurate as a one-day forecast was back in 1980. In addition, scientists have shown even 10-day forecasts are useful and pretty accurate these days. Seeing any aspect of the world 10 days into the future would have been unimaginable in basically any other era of human history. From ice to severe thunderstorms, it helps to know whether your weekend plans can stick around or need to get rainchecked early. It saves us all headaches to know what the future weather holds!

This magnitude of scientific advancement in weather forecasting isn’t free, but it really pays dividends. Some estimates put the amount of benefit from investing in this science at as much as 10 times the cost! There are few things that can rival that return on investment…that is, unless you have mint condition Atari games or unboxed vintage Barbie dolls.

So what’s the next innovation we’ll all see in weather forecasting in the coming years? Great question! Some folks think augmented reality will play a big role in helping us visualize the future weather events we’ll face. We don’t know about you, but if that’s the case we look forward to even more timely, accurate and entertaining forecasts from our meteorologists. On the tech side, artificial intelligence and machine learning are already helping us decipher new patterns in weather datasets we’ve missed in the past. One thing’s for sure: the more we learn and explore new ways to understand the science of weather forecasting, the better it is for all of us. Thanks, science!