Difficult Predictions: Is AccuWeather’s 30-day Forecast Accurate Anymore?

Each of us has switched between many weather apps while pondering why they each provide a slightly different forecast. AccuWeather claims to offer the most accurate forecasts when it comes to exact predictions, but is that actually the case? We’re delving into the background of weather forecasting, taking a closer look at the resources available to AccuWeather, and examining the effects of climate change on the discipline of meteorology.

How Are Weather Predictions Produced?

Prior to examining AccuWeather, it is crucial to comprehend the fundamentals of weather forecasting. Barometers and thermometers were once used to make weather forecasts. These instruments don’t provide tremendously accurate forecasts, of course, but early meteorologists depended on persistence and patterns. In other words, they were able to forecast future weather movements and produce weather maps by looking at past weather movements.

Fortunately, technological developments have enabled us to create a system that is more precise. Today, meteorologists use historical data and present conditions to make weather predictions. A variety of equipment are used to record observations, including aircraft, satellites, weather balloons, ground radars, and more.

After that, this data is incorporated into computer models that assist meteorologists in forecasting weather events days in advance. The computer model prioritises numerous factors, including wind speed, temperature, and humidity. The accuracy of the final forecast as a whole is impacted by these various prioritizations.

How Does AccuWeather Predict the Weather?

Over 100 meteorologists are employed by the privately held, for-profit weather forecasting company AccuWeather to forecast the weather. They make use of data from both privately owned sensors and official weather data using 176 computer models. The current weather is then compared by meteorologists to those computer models.

Joel Myers, the founder of AccuWeather, notes that “the snow is moving quicker than the models are capturing.” As a result, “we accelerate to start the snow an hour, an hour and a half, faster than the models are showing, and that’s how we get the edge on our competition.”

As you can expect, these techniques are more accurate for forecasts up to 10 days in the future. Of course, only 25 years ago, it was difficult for meteorologists to predict the weather accurately more than three days in advance, so can we truly rely on AccuWeather’s 30-day forecasts?

AccuWeather’s accuracy level

AccuWeather has a lot to live up to with a name that implies accuracy, but does the business succeed? AccuWeather was named the most trustworthy source for weather measurement in a 2020 study that examined the precision of weather forecasts over an 18-month period.

The study discovered that AccuWeather has the lowest average absolute error out of all the examined weather forecasting services by analysing the company’s high-temperature and low-temperature forecasts.

But not everybody appears to concur. AccuWeather announced 90-day forecasts in 2016, which caused many meteorologists to scoff. Since, as many critics noted, even the smallest variation might lead to a significant change, especially when you’re looking so far out, their projections were labelled “unscientific” because of this.

According to one meteorologist, AccuWeather’s 90-day forecasts are “scientifically indefensible,” adding that “forecasts of this type beyond 7-10 days (at the most) are simply not viable.” If someone tells you otherwise, they are mistaken because this is the domain of astrology and palmistry, not science.

Furthermore, a 2019 study found that weather forecasts can’t be made (accurately) more than 10 days in advance. The American Meteorological Society concurs with this finding and cites constantly changing, occasionally extreme weather conditions as an insurmountable source of variables.

In response, AccuWeather pointed out that these data from further in the future primarily aid meteorologists in tracking the development of weather patterns. In other words, they shouldn’t be used as a rigid blueprint to organise your trip.

The weather experts and climate change

There is a solid reason why climate change is a frequently discussed subject among meteorologists. Over time, an increasing number of meteorologists have begun to accept the reality of climate change and the escalating climate problem.

As a result, they have covered it more frequently and contributed to raising awareness. However, meteorologists deal with the effects of significant climate change every day, not just when a catastrophic weather event occurs.

In fact, a research from Stanford University found that climate change has significantly impacted weather reporting accuracy. The study made clear that many people can underestimate particular weather events or patterns if they only depend on previous data and forecasts when reporting on the weather. This could then have a terrible effect on the people experiencing these events.

In other words, it’s challenging to make solid predictions since these more intense weather events aren’t something we can clearly link to a previous period in our meteorological history. The Stanford study suggests that when making predictions, meteorologists attempt to take these information gaps into consideration.

National Geographic said that by 2050, towns throughout the world are expected to experience situations they’ve never known before, which might be especially troublesome for tropical cities as both climate change and global warming become more and more worrying.

These new difficulties unquestionably demand an improvement in weather forecast methods and technology. It appears to be mostly cloudy right now.

Misha Khatri
Misha Khatri is an emeritus professor in the University of Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics and a PhD in Physical Analytical Chemistry from the University of Utah.

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