Weather Forecasting: Can it Save Your Life?

The potential for saving countless lives is why it’s important to invest in better weather forecasting. Accurate and timely forecasts enable people to prepare themselves for extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes and tornadoes. Forecasting, by providing early warnings and useful information, can reduce the risk that people will be injured or die. In addition, investing in research and weather forecasting technologies can help improve our understanding and predict weather patterns. This will lead to improved long-term predictions, and reduce the impact of natural catastrophes on communities that are vulnerable.

Improved weather forecasting plays an important role in many other industries as well, such as agriculture, transportation, or emergency services. Accurate information about the weather allows farmers to plan planting and harvesting schedules in order to reduce the risk of crop failure. Transport systems can be notified of severe weather conditions and rerouted or rescheduled to avoid accidents. Weather forecasts allow emergency services to better allocate resources and ensure a rapid response during severe weather or natural disasters. In general, increasing investment in weather forecasting not only saves lives, but also improves the economic stability and resilience of various sectors.

On September 21, 1938 at dawn, 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.

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 its course and moved away from Florida. The agency, despite warnings from a junior forecaster decided that the system would spin away and die somewhere in the middle Atlantic Ocean. It determined that the cyclone was not a 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.

On that same morning, just off the coast Long Island, an angry vortex and water was seen. 120-mph winds Already, it was reversing direction. Around 2:30 pm it reached land. Seismographs recorded the impact of the tidal wave. as far away as Alaska.

The Great Hurricane of 1939, or “The Long Island Express” As it was called, this hurricane would go on to be one of most destructive in American history. It caused the destruction of more than 63,000 dwellings. It injured tens of thousands. 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

The weather forecast has come a very long way since 1930. Meteorologists used to forecast the weather back then. “relied on the 16th-century thermometer, the 17th-century mercurial barometer, and the medieval weather vane,” writes the historian William Manchester. William Manchester.

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 the conditions on land. Satellites orbit the Earth, beaming valuable imagery and data. 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.

Meteorologists are making incredible progress with the help of this technology.

Today’s five-day forecast is as accurate In 1980, a single-day forecast used to be available.

Heavy rain is predicted for the next two days. as good As the same-day weather forecast was in the mid-1990s.

There are many inaccurate predictions made about the paths of hurricanes. half as likely They are still the same as they were only a few years ago.

Forecasters in 1990 could only make a relative accurate forecast of the weather. seven days in advance. They can now make fairly accurate forecasts ten days Prepare 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. The tourism industry can predict the tourist flow. 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. A group of economists tried it recently. 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 economists from the University of Arizona.

According to their estimates, extreme temperatures cause the deaths of thousands of Americans every year. Lemoine admits that he was not confident in the accuracy of temperature forecasts before he conducted this study.

“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 impact 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.

Even though the forecasting error is large, it can still have a significant impact on death rates. “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.”

Economists believe that accurate forecasting is especially important on hot days. Lemoine says that while people can die from the cold as well, 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 may, for example, buy an air conditioner or cancel a doctor’s appointment or plan their day to avoid the sun. 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. This is only the economic benefit from more accurate weather forecasts lowering death rates; this is not the overall economic benefit. “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 benefits from increasing their investment in the agency.

Climate change will cause our country to become hotter, and we’ll be subjected to more 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. He says investing in improved forecasting is a crucial part of adjusting to climate changes.

Bakkensen states that between 2005-2017, the National Weather Service improved its forecasts by around 30%. Therefore, a further 50% improvement would be feasible. 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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