Snow storm prediction brings questions of forecast accuracy

Snow storm prediction brings questions of forecast accuracy

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WASHINGTON, December 8, 2013 — Over the weekend, metro area residents were given a plethora of weather forecasts, ranging from freezing rain and sleet to between zero to five inches of snow, yet many doubt the accuracy of future predictions.

Often enough over the past few weeks, weather forecasters have “cried wolf,” warning the DC metro area that major storm fronts would impact the area, only for the predictions to never materialize. Now, as forecasters predict another 5 inches for the DC area tomorrow, many are unsure of what to believe.

Note: Readers are advised to take the best safety precautions available to them.

According to, the ability of meteorologists to predict the weather varies from organization to organization. The website tracks the following weather prediction accuracy statistics for the Washington DC area over the past year:

The Weather Channel 78.41%
MeteoGroup 77.93%
AccuWeather 75.24%
Weather Underground 72.91%
National Weather Service 72.48%
CustomWeather 71.35%
Foreca 70.40%
WeatherBug 70.28%
Persistence 44.36%

The website also states “It rained or snowed 65% of the time in Washington last month when WeatherBug’s text forecasts called for precipitation, and 6% of the time when they did not.”

According to a Dartmouth study, “Weather forecasters tend to be most accurate during summer while they tend to be least accurate during fall and winter.”

Scientists point to technology as the main culprit, stating the United States does not used advanced enough computers. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) explains “Besides the increasing gap in weather satellite technology, Europe and Japan are also well ahead in computer power available for numerical weather prediction models.

“…much of the inferiority of U.S. global numerical weather prediction can be traced to the third-rate operational computer resources available to the National Weather Service (NWS), an inferiority that can only be characterized as a national embarrassment.

… the NWS weather prediction computers are … inferior to those of other national weather services.”

The AGU, quoting Cliff Mass, lays out the problem and the solution in simple terms, “A big part of the problem is that NOAA management has decided to put priority on the oceans and climate while they short-change weather prediction.  This has been a deliberate and long-term policy.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress has not reined them in. The irony is that NOAA understands how important and popular the National Weather Service is and demands that NWS products have NOAA stamped all over it–while draining critical resources the NWS requires to do a proper job.”

Tomorrow’s forecasts also present a murky picture for those trying to make plans to deal with the weather. While there seems to be a consensus that it will snow tomorrow, each agency has variability in both the prediction and the type of information given:

The Weather Channel Snow likely. Cold. Temps nearly steady in the low to mid 30s. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph. 2 to 4 inches of snow expected.
MeteoGroup Unavailable
AccuWeather Cloudy and colder with snow and sleet tapering off, accumulating 1-3 inches
Weather Underground Snow during the morning will give way to some clearing during the afternoon. Temps nearly steady in the low to mid 30s. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph. Snow accumulating 3 to 5 inches.
National Weather Service Snow, mainly before noon. High near 33. North wind 6 to 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.
CustomWeather Snow showers. Broken clouds. Chilly. 1.01″ (snow)
Foreca Partly cloudy. Snow showers. [translated]
WeatherBug Snow and sleet in the morning…then a chance of snow in the afternoon. Snow and sleet accumulation of 3 to 5 inches. Highs in the lower 30s. North winds 5 to 10 mph…becoming northwest in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation near 100 percent.
Persistence Unavailable


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Rahat Husain
Rahat Husain has been working as a columnist since 2013 when he joined the Communities. With an interest in America and Islam, Rahat is a prolific writer on contemporary and international issues. In addition to writing for the Communities, Rahat Husain is an Attorney based in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. He is the Director of Legal and Policy Affairs at UMAA Advocacy. For the past six years, Mr. Husain has worked with Congressmen, Senators, federal agencies, think tanks, NGOs, policy institutes, and academic experts to advocate on behalf of Shia Muslim issues, both political and humanitarian. UMAA hosts one of the largest gatherings of Shia Ithna Asheri Muslims in North America at its annual convention.