Ah, 2023 is upon us. A new year always brings hope, resolutions, opportunity, and change. However, one thing is constant (or is it)- the weather. Like 2022, this year will bring snowstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, heatwaves and floods. However, it does not have to bring the same types of misunderstanding of weather information that I often see when talking with people or reading social media. Here are seven changes you should consider when checking weather forecasts this year.
Many people have a misperception that weather forecasts are bad. Over the years, I have come to realize that is rooted in unrealistic expectations some people have relative to the state of the science. Weather forecasting is actually very good today and is getting better (as long as you understand the caveats). When you consume a weather forecast in 2023, try to understand the following things:
- There are limits of forecast accuracy beyond about 10-14 days.
- The weather models, Apps and observations do not have the capacity to predict what is going to happen 4 days from now directly over your rose garden.
- Weather forecasts are conveyed with some level of uncertainty (% chance of rain or “hurricane cone”) to account for the range of outcomes possible. Different models, observation gaps, and the inherent non-linear nature of the atmosphere will always pose challenges to a system trying to predict changes using mathematics and physics.
Before you conclude that the forecast was wrong, ask yourself if you understood what 20% chance of rain or the “hurricane cone painted over your town” actually meant.
Do not anchor
I have been really beating this one up lately. It it has become very apparent to me that this is a big problem. I was speaking with someone recently, and they pulled a classic “anchoring” move. The person said something to the effect of, “Well, they said earlier this week that it was going to rain so we are changing our travel plans.” I responded (as a meteorologist), “The model outcomes evolved over the past few days and things look pretty good so I am leaving today.” Anchoring is a heuristic whereby people make decisions based on the first information they see. That is a flawed approach when dealing with something as dynamic as the atmosphere. Weather model outcomes evolve as new information comes in and as the time window for the event shrinks. In 2023, get in the habit of watching the “evolving” forecast.
Have a night plan
Severe weather (tornadoes, extreme winds, and/or hail) is guaranteed in 2023. Some of the deadliest outcomes from severe weather happen at night when we are sleeping. This year, I encourage you to do the following things: Develop a severe weather plan for your household, practice it, and review the weather forecasts or threats each night before going to bed. Before you brush your teeth, check your local National Weather Service office, TV meteorologist, or other credible weather alert systems. Our warning systems are too robust in 2023 for someone to try to claim,”It came without warning.”
Beware of Social Media-rologists
There is a ton of weather information at the fingertips of everyone. As such, we often see weather information blindly shared without the proper context, caveats, or understanding. In many cases, that “bad” information gets re-shared or retweeted. Hours later, thousands of people may believe a fictitious snowstorm 10 days from now is going to happen even though trained experts know that was only “1-model” run or that it has a cold bias in certain situations. In 2023, ask yourself if the weather information is from a credible source before you hit “share.”
Learn the difference between weather and climate
Weather is what you have on today, climate is what is in your closet. Weather is your mood, climate is your personality. Weather is one at-bat, climate is the player’s overall statistics. I have a ton of these, but they all make the same point. You cannot draw conclusions about climate change based on what is happening on a given day or week. One cold (hot) day does not refute (confirm) climate change. Our climate has changed due to human activity, and yes, climate changes naturally too. It is not an “either/or” situation. It is an “and” situation.
Avoid normalcy bias
Try to avoid normalcy bias in 2023. Hurricane Harvey (2017), Hurricane Ian (2022), the Buffalo Snowstorms (2022), and the Great Pacific Northwest Heatwave (2021) are examples of anomaly events. By their very definition, you probably have not experienced anything like them before. As such, do not assume that you can prepare or handle anomalous weather events just because you survived a previous hurricane or snowstorm. Scientific literature clearly indicates that climate change is altering extreme weather events. While not every one will be, there is likely a storm looming that is well beyond your experience or preparation level.
Follow the National Weather Service
My final piece of advice is to make sure you have access to information from your local National Weather Service office. Identify their social media sites and webpages. Our broadcast and private sector services are great, and they all work together. However, I usually default to the folks at the National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center, and so on.
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