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How The Advance Weather Forecast Got Good

NPR notes today’s “supercomputer-driven” weather modelling can crunch huge amounts of data to accurately forecast the weather a week in advance — pointing out that “a six-day weather forecast today is as good as a two-day forecast was in the 1970s.”

Here’s some highlights from their interview with Andrew Blum, author of The Weather Machine: A Journey Inside the Forecast :

One of the things that’s happened as the scale in the system has shifted to the computers is that it’s no longer bound by past experience. It’s no longer, the meteorologists say, “Well, this happened in the past, we can expect it to happen again.” We’re more ready for these new extremes because we’re not held down by past expectations…
The models are really a kind of ongoing concern. … They run ahead in time, and then every six hours or every 12 hours, they compare their own forecast with the latest observations. And so the models in reality are … sort of dancing together, where the model makes a forecast and it’s corrected slightly by the observations that are coming in…

It’s definitely run by individual nations — but individual nations with their systems tied together… It’s a 150-year-old system of governments collaborating with each other as a global public good… The positive example from last month was with Cyclone Fani in India. And this was a very similar storm to one 20 years ago, that tens of thousands of people had died. This time around, the forecast came far enough in advance and with enough confidence that the Indian government was able to move a million people out of the way.


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