What Makes a Reputable Forecast?

Social Media Forecasts All Want Snow and Your Money!!!

You’ve seen the headlines… “MAJOR WINTER WEATHER EVENT NEXT THURSDAY!”

Is this accurate? Last winter, social media was a nightmare for real forecasters. There were sites reporting 14 inches of snow nearly 3 weeks in advance! When we got to that day, there was only a wet snow and rain. How many times have you seen this?

NC Weather Happens was created to be a reliable source for unbiased and un-hyped weather information. We are expecting a very active winter this year and the goal is to have a place to go when severe/winter weather threatens.

DISCLAIMER: The National Weather Service has the final word on weather. Models may say all sorts of things, but they are experts with a tradition going back to the 1800’s. Only they can issue Warnings, Watches, and Advisories and ONLY school officials, business, and broadcast meteorologists listen to their advice when it comes to closures…NOT Social Media.

Question 1: “How do we know if this is a real forecast?”

Answer: This is not an easy answer. First when the term “we” is used, it means County Emergency Managers, Emergency Services personnel, area Broadcast Meteorologists, and Industrial Meteorologists. This also includes the National Weather Service and their staff.

“We” see these forecasts being published…they get shared…which get shared…and before you know it, the term “viral” comes to mind. Take for example this image from last year…

Used by permission, WeatherBell Analytics and ECMWF.

Used by permission, WeatherBell Analytics and ECMWF.

Look at the Title…Look at the date…Find where you live and then see how much snow you will receive. The site(s) that posted it, simply captured an image from WeatherBell Analytics, posted it to their page and called it FACT! It was posted 2/06/14 for an impact date of 2/13/1014. Here are the actual amounts received…

February 14 snow storm.

February 14 snow storm.

It was a good call. IT SNOWED LIKE THE DICKENS!!!

This is where our issue began with Social Media. One lucky hit on a long range model and the public stopped listening to official and trusted sources, and began following Facebook forecasters. Our ability to convey critical information was diminished and trust was questioned. Did you really need a pretty picture 2 weeks in advance when it was not necessary?

Now that we have shown you a real event that you definitely remember, let’s talk about how this one event affected actual weather related responses.

“We” saw the same  presentations in “our” back channels. “We” made preparations just in case. “We” cannot act until there is confirmation from the National Weather Service. Meanwhile, the staff at the NWS have all seen the same model solutions, but their rules state that outside of 5-7 days, they cannot announce. Back here in gotta-know-something-land, we see these posts but are unable to act. Back in Facebook-land, the folks that posted the first model image, have gone from 115 likes, to 2500 likes over night. They are viewed as the “Source for weather information”.

As we got nearer to the 13th, our “shockcasters” “likes” were in the tens of thousands. Back here, we were wondering if the NWS had dropped the ball as we had utilities to protect, personnel to schedule, staff to coordinate… It snowed like Heck!!! The shockcasters had an edge…and they had now amassed thousands of people who follow them.

So, back to our question…”Is this a real forecast?”…Yes. But here is the problem… The public was taken away from official sources and the pressure was on to keep up…But as we said, this was a one time event…the next sequence of winter weather events all proved to be wrong in social media. These Social Media outlets have some talent. They may actually have some job experience…but they lack Ethical Responsibility which only comes with the discipline. Did they consider the ramifications of their forecast? Did they consider the costs associated with it? NO! They purchased a subscription to a “model site” and then claimed themselves experts…and people followed.

All the social media outlets using stock maps, projected the January 21-22, January 28-29, March 3-4 events with terrible results. Some even retracted their forecasts or deleted them…yes, they deleted their forecasts and re-wrote them! (NC Weather Happens has them all nice and safe). The public was jaded but…the damage was done.

The bottom Line: One Lucky hit on a forecast. Publish a pretty map. Get tens of thousands of likes. Alter and change “bust” forecasts. Ruin credibility of real meteorologists. Which leads us to our next question…

Question 2: “How can I tell if _____ is forecasting correctly?”

Answer: This is another tough one. What “we”(remember the definition?) have seen is that there are no citations of the source. There are snippets of larger images and there is no reference to the author, model, and sometimes even the date! It really is sad. Let’s look at this image taken from the NC Weather Happens Facebook page…

sampleMany social media forecasters will clip the image to remove the details such as date, time, model, and effective date. To you all it is is a pretty picture saying…anything. In this image,  There is a source shown. There is a date range…when the model ran and when the effective date is. There is the data which shows snowfall. NC Weather Acquired this image last year to highlight the 2/13 storm and is used by permission. If you do not see these things, it could be from anywhere and anytime…you just can’t be sure!

We highlight this slide for one purpose and one purpose only… IF YOU SEE ANYTHING THAT LOOKS LIKE THIS FOR ECMWF it is being distributed illegally and is in violation of distribution license. There is only one public section and it WILL NEVER SHOW SNOWFALL AMOUNTS. Other models like the GFS, NAM, and derivatives of those will show snowfall, but only under a few days.

BE VERY SUSPECT AND BE VERY CAREFUL…if you distribute restricted information, you can be held liable! Remember your old English class teacher getting on you for not citing the source of your information? This is plagiarism…If a weather site can’t provide sources, only provides clips, and doesn’t show a time frame, they can’t provide good forecasts.  

Question 3: “Besides NC Weather Happens, where is a good source for weather information?”

Answer: NC Weather Happens exists to be a a destination on Social Media for unbiased and un-hyped information. Yes we do provide the daily Highs and Lows when weather is quiet. We will tell you when to pack an umbrella or scrape your windshield or bundle up. But when ominous signs show up on the horizon, we will do our very best to give you a heads up on what COULD happen. If you want snazzy headlines and snow totals 300 hours (7+ days) in advance, then this is not the place for you. NC Weather Happens uses science and local knowledge of our region to bring you the most current and reliable information available. We consult with area forecasters and the National Weather Service when it’s a tough call. We cite our sources but our mission is to take very scientific information and break it down into plain English so that you can make your plans. No jargon and no hype. we don’t care about being first with a snow total or generating advertising revenue. NC Weather Happens is a self sustaining private venture and will never solicit donations or advertising to you in public forum. Be very wary of those that do. 

As NC Weather Happens covers about 88 counties in North Carolina, here are some links.

Raleigh National Weather Service

Greenville/Spartanburg National Weather Service

Blacksburg/Roanoke National Weather Service

On the NC Weather Happens website, there are links to the above for important information.

There are also broadcast meteorologist sites on social media…Grant Gilmore, Brad Panovich, WeatherBell Analytics, and hosts of official weather sites that are publicly available.

Closing:

We know this was a heady article. It needed to be said. This will be a very busy winter season and all we, at NC Weather Happens want for you is to be to be very cautious about who you follow… As we said, if you don’t like these answers, feel free to seek other weather outlets, but at least now you have some very well documented guidelines to direct your plans.

As always,

NC Weather Happens.Enjoy it! 

 

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