27 April 2016

Properly Communicating a Forecast Is Just As Important as Accuracy

Posted by Dan Satterfield


The Storm Prediction Center’s outlook for severe weather verified fairly well yesterday. There were not that many tornadoes and the reason for this was likely that the wind shear was not that favorable in spite of an extremely unstable airmass. Still, the graphic above shows where the reports of wind damage, hail, and tornadoes were, and it matches well with the forecast outlook. The storms forecasted for New Jersey developed, but no damage reports were received, and the Severe Thunderstorm Watch issued for Delaware and New Jersey was cancelled early.

There has been talk today that the risk was not communicated well, especially by local media in Oklahoma City and in a couple of cases this criticism seems deserved. (See this from the Capital Weather Gang at the Wash. Post). Comments from AccuWeather about the likelihood of long track wedge tornadoes were way over the top, and this comes after a firestorm of criticism (me included) over there 45 and 90 day forecasts from meteorologists around the country. Detailed forecasts beyond 7-10 days are just not possible, and there forecasts are no more reliable than the guesses in the Farmers Almanac. Over-hyping the weather was a real issue in Oklahoma and it’s a good idea to rely on NOAA or media meteorologists who display a CBM Seal from the AMS. In Oklahoma City, only one station has a CBM seal holder as lead meteorologist(KOCO), and for the number one severe weather market in the country, this is rather shocking.

While the outlook called for a moderate (rather than high) risk of severe weather, the SPC did issue a PDS Tornado Watch (Particularly Dangerous Situation) yesterday, and you could argue that this didn’t really verify. Forecast decisions like these are tough, and can be a real judgement call, and good forecasters learn from them. Without doubt, communication is the weak link in any forecast issued to the public, and this is becoming recognized more and more by NOAA forecasters and broadcast meteorologists like me. My friend Bob Henson has a much more in-depth look at the issues involved in long-range severe weather outlooks here.