Weather forecasters have it easy – they can be wrong all year, and still keep their job!
Okay, maybe predicting the weather isn’t so simple. And it’s not always so bad, is it? After all, it’s easy to remember that one time we wore shorts in the freezing rain… but most of the time, predictions are actually pretty spot on.
Ever wondered why? So did we… so let’s check out how weather forecasts work!
First off, things have changed.
Even 50 years ago, weather prediction worked quite differently. In fact, we used to watch cloud patterns to predict the weather – a technique that still works today, of course. However, we’ve found some more reliable methods since…
Today, our planet is covered with weather-monitoring devices. This includes weather balloons, ocean buoys, weather systems and other devices that track all sorts of data.
These devices work together, sharing real-time information to predict movements and changes in weather patterns across the globe. Cool, right? Well, it gets better…
Satellites: A breakthrough in weather prediction
As it turns out, predicting the weather is a lot easier from outer space. Who knew?!
Soon after the space race broke out, we started tracking weather patterns using satellites. These days, there are tons of ‘em; for example, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) has 10 currently active: Meteosat-8, 9, 10 and 11, Metop-A, B & C, Jason-3 and Sentinel-3A & 3B.
These satellites are positioned at varying distances – from 550 to 2,200 miles into space. They orbit the earth 14 times a day, gathering data on temperature, wind and humidity.
Oh, but it goes beyond satellites!
Okay, so we have a “web of gadgets” around the planet, actively monitoring real-time weather data. At the same time, we have tons of satellites in the sky, all watching the big picture.
Wouldn’t it be great if they could work together?
Enter the supercomputer! That’s right: these days, our weather predictions come from billions of bits of data gathered all across the globe and even outer space. (You don’t think cloud watching is quite as cool any more, do you?)
This data is crunched by supercomputers – the latest of which is IBM’s GRAF (Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System), which began operation in late 2019. It can predict the weather 12 hours in advance, and updates hourly – up to 12 times faster than current systems!
The process itself is called “numerical weather prediction”, and it’s helping literally billions of people live better lives.
A final note: Why weather forecasting is important
It’s easy to forget how important our ability to predict the weather is – it’s truly an incredible accomplishment for mankind. So before we curse the local weatherman for being a few degrees off, let’s remember that his work helps us avoid disasters, keeps cities moving smoothly, and ensures we’re (decently) prepared for our vacations.
…And then we can curse him 🙂
Anyway, here’s to having no need for that – a winter of perfect predictions!
(Psst… is there something you’ve always been curious about? Maybe we’re curious too – and we’ll feature it in a future article. Let us know by leaving a comment below!)