Discover the untapped potential of weather prediction: Could we save our lives by investing more?

It is vital to invest more in the weather forecasting for individual safety and wellbeing. Accurate forecasts are more important than ever as weather patterns become increasingly unpredictable because of climate change. We can improve our forecasting of severe weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards by allocating more funds to weather forecasting technology and research. This advance warning gives people time to prepare, and if needed evacuate.

Investing in weather forecasting has also been shown to have economic benefits. Extreme weather can cause major damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure. Individuals and communities who accurately predict these events can take the necessary precautions to minimize economic loss. Accurate weather forecasts also help agriculture and transportation industries plan and prepare for the weather, reducing disruptions and ensuring efficient operations. By investing in better weather forecasting, we can not only save more lives but also improve the resilience and stability of society.

The morning of September 21st, 1938. The New York Times Published a standard weather forecast for its readers that did not cause alarm.

“The indications are for rain and cool weather today and for cloudy and continued cool weather, probably with rain, tomorrow, according to the map charted at the United States Weather Bureau at 7:30 o’clock (EST) last night,” the paper wrote.

In the days prior, the U.S. Weather Bureau — the predecessor to the National Weather Service — had been tracking a hurricane that was threatening the coast of Florida. The storm changed course and diverted away from Florida’s coast. In spite of the warnings given by a junior weather forecaster, it was decided to continue spinning and let the system die in the middle Atlantic Ocean. The agency deemed that the cyclone posed no threat.

The New York TimesIn its same edition, on September 21, it praised even the weather agency’s work in tracking the hurricane. “If New York and the rest of the world have been so well informed about the cyclone it is because of an admirably organized meteorological service,” the paper wrote.

The angry vortex of waters was still raging off the coasts of Long Island that morning. 120-mph winds Already, it was reversing direction. Around 2:30 pm it reached land. Seismographs recorded the impact of a tidal wave so powerful that it was felt. as far away as Alaska.

The Great Hurricane of 1939, or “The Long Island Express” It would be one of the most destructive storms in American History. More than 63,000 houses were destroyed. It injured thousands. The number of deaths was more than 600 people. And — because of bad forecasting — many of these victims were taken completely by surprise.

<em>1938 Hurricane Damage at Crescent Beach in Connecticut.</em>

National Archives


National Archives

1938 Hurricane Damage in Connecticut at Crescent Beach

Since the 1930s, weather forecasts have improved dramatically. The 1930s saw meteorologists making forecasts. “relied on the 16th-century thermometer, the 17th-century mercurial barometer, and the medieval weather vane,” writes the historian William Manchester. The use of newfangled planes was becoming more and more important for making forecasts. However, forecasters still relied heavily on ships at sea to provide them with information about weather patterns like hurricane tracks.

Forecasters today are equipped with an impressive array of technology for making weather predictions. Doppler towers can detect wind and precipitation patterns. Weather balloons equipped with radiosondes float in the upper stratosphere and collect data about temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed, and direction. Automated surface observing systems can provide data in real time about land conditions. Satellites transmit valuable data and imagery as they circle the globe. Supercomputers are also used to analyze data. advanced statistical models All this data can be combined to give forecasters a clear picture of the weather we will experience in the future.

With all of this technology, the meteorologists have made incredible progress.

Today, we have a five day weather forecast. as accurate As a one-day weather forecast, it was in 1980.

Heavy rain is predicted for the next two days. as good The same-day forecast used to be available in the middle of the 1990s.

Hurricane predictions are often wrong. half as likely As they were a few decades back.

In 1990, weather forecasters were only able to provide a fairly accurate prediction. seven days in advance. They can now make fairly accurate forecasts ten days In advance

They may be one of the many things we take for granted in the modern world, but more accurate weather forecasts — and our ability to access them anytime on our smartphones — have tremendous value for our economy. They assist farmers in making decisions about their crops. They can help builders make better decisions. They assist the tourism industry in predicting tourist flows. These tools help people prepare for the future and literally save lives.

It’s been difficult for economists, despite the fact that weather forecasts have a clear value, to quantify their worth. Recently, a group economists made an attempt. But a group of economists recently tried. a new working paper, “Fatal Errors: The Mortality Value of Accurate Weather Forecasts,” The economists Jeffrey G. Shrader and Laura Bakkensen focus on one aspect that is important to predicting weather: the temperature.

What is the value of knowing future temperatures?

Recently, Bakkensen and Lemoine joined me on a Zoom call from Tucson, Arizona, on a day when their city was — quite appropriately for our interview — under an excessive heat warning. Both are economics professors at the University of Arizona.

According to their estimates, extreme temperatures cause the deaths of thousands of Americans every year. Lemoine claims that, prior to this study, he didn’t believe temperature forecasts made a significant difference.

“It’s actually not obvious when forecasts have value,” says Lemoine. “If on some days an error in forecasting means that there are fewer deaths, and other days errors mean that there are more deaths, these things could kind of statistically wash out.” He says that meteorologists have made so many incredible advances in forecasting accuracy in the last few decades, that it’s not clear if any errors still remain.

To determine if inaccurate temperature forecasts have an effect on death, economists combine real-time weather data and weather forecasts provided by the National Weather Service and data on deaths from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. The economists focus on forecasts for one-day ahead of time over a period of 12 years. “We’re trying to compare the same county, essentially the same people, same temperature day, but this day had an accurate forecast, this day had a slightly inaccurate forecast, and see how that impacts mortality,” Bakkensen says.

The economists have found that forecasting errors can have a big impact on the number of deaths. “We see effects of even errors of just a degree or two,” Lemoine says. “We can see in the data that deaths are higher, and we weren’t expecting it to be that sensitive.”

Especially on hot days, economists say that it is important to make accurate predictions. Lemoine notes that while people can also die from the cold, it appears that heat is more likely to cause death. So it makes some intuitive sense that a bad forecast in advance of a hot day — in particular a forecast saying it’s going to be colder than it really ends up being — could be particularly deadly.

Bakkensen claims that their data clearly shows people use forecasts to save lives. They might buy an AC unit, cancel a medical visit, or plan the day so as to avoid direct sunlight. Municipalities can also open public pools and increase hospital capacity.

“Well-forecasted days when they’re hot don’t have that much of an effect on mortality,” Lemoine says. “It’s the inaccurately forecasted hot days that have a big effect. So you can trim a lot of those effects just by having better forecasts.”

The economists calculate this: “making forecasts 50% more accurate would save 2,200 lives per year.” In addition, they estimate. “the public would be willing to pay $112 billion” It will take the rest of the century for this to become a reality. Remember, this is the benefit to the economy of accurate temperature forecasts for reducing death rates; it’s NOT a calculation on the total benefit of improved weather forecasts. “I would expect that this number we’re calculating is a big lower bound on the benefits of overall more accurate forecasts,” Bakkensen says.

It is important to note that the word “you” means “you”. annual budget for the National Weather Service Lemoine’s analysis shows that Americans will see considerable benefits if they invest more in this agency in the future.

Both economists agree that it is important to improve weather forecasts, as the climate change is expected to make our country and the entire world hotter and more prone to extreme weather. “As climate change shifts us more toward hot days, it’s implicitly shifting us toward days where accurate forecasts matter more,” Lemoine says. Lemoine says investing in improved forecasting is a crucial part of adjusting to climate changes.

Bakkensen claims that the National Weather Service forecasts improved by 30% between 2005 and 2017. Therefore, another 50% improvement could be possible. This is especially true since many meteorologists are now using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve their forecasts. we may already be seeing the beginnings A quantum leap forward in improving forecast accuracy.

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