What are models

November 13th, 2012 at 11:55 am by under Weather

Airplane model from the Mini Model Airplane Club

If you are not in the weather forecasting business and you think of a model you probably think back to your childhood days of building different models. I used to build airplane models with my brother and parents and it was supposed to be a scaled replica of what the real thing looked like.

Weather and climate ‘models’ are quite different. In fact, they are all calculated on computers using thousands of mathematical problems and solutions to help the meteorologist make his/her forecast. The computers are not climate or weather savvy they need to be given basic physics and scientific principles in order to run complex data through the myriad of problems and solutions.

The Global Forecasting Model or GFS model

I hope that most meteorologists are not just model readers either. A good forecasting meteorologist takes his/her knowledge about the days mathematical model runs and figures out bias and problems or consistent trends that have shown up in previous runs of the computer driven models. This is put together with the meteorologist local knowledge about quirks and local climatology features which may make the actual model forecast different than depicted.

These models are not perfect because we cannot go out and measure every parcel of air or see the volume in every rain drop. Rather there are many physics estimations that have to be done to make a forecast. This is where the uncertainty in forecasting comes about. I know many people think that meteorologists are wrong more than they are correct. When someone brings this up to me and if they have to chat I try to explain that we can never be exact but since we have more atmospheric knowledge on how our climate operates then we have a much better idea of how a going forecast is going to ‘play out’.

A perfect example of this is what meteorologists are calling ‘Super Storm Sandy’. Our forecasting technology in one particular European Forecast Model had almost the exact track and magnitude of the storm almost a week ahead of time. This gave many meteorologists at least a warning of what might happen with this storm. It turns out in this instance the models were correct.

Usually our forecast models are have about a 90 percentĀ  accuracy rate out to 24 hours. This falls to about a 68% skill score or rating over the 7 day period, which in my estimation is pretty good since I’m old enough to remember the past.

Just keep in mind that weather forecasting is a relatively new science since we didn’t have the sophisticated weather satellites and radars until very recently. We are rapidly learning more and more about the atmosphere each year. Will the weather forecast ever be ‘perfect’ in our life time. I think I can honestly say no to that question. But, it is getting a whole lot better!


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