How Are Summer Outlooks Created? How Are They Different Than Daily Forecasts?

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MAP3Our WJW FOX8 Summer Outlook first aired on Thursday, April 24th. Not long after, comments and criticism started pouring in stating in part that we should concentrate on getting the daily forecast right rather than trying to forecast the weather months out. This isn’t new. It happens after each seasonal outlook. (In the next few days, I will have an extended blog post here and on Scott’s World of Weather on the specific elements we used in formulating the outlook.)

Actual day to day weather forecasts are developed with analyzing current conditions, radar, satellite and other parameters to make a forecast for a short period of time in the future. 12 Hours, 24 hours, 36 hours, 48 hours. We utilize computer model projections as guidance. Yes, these projections are getting better as more data is utilized and plugged into faster and faster computers with more sophisticated equations.

Seasonal long range outlooks (winter weather forecast, etc) are created by looking at the ocean sea surface temperature patterns (El Nino, etc), pressure patterns over the Arctic and North Atlantic among some others. Some scientists use solar output and other variables. The elements just mentioned are matched up with other years of occurrence. A best possible fit is created. Sometimes this works out well. Sometimes it doesn’t. Again, this is a trend outlook not a specific forecast for a specific day. Individual storms cannot be forecasted this far out. But by looking at parameters that existed in the past during other storm events, we can say that the chance of, say, a hurricane making landfall is greater this year than in years past.

For the lay person, all of these forecasts and trend outlooks are lumped into one group. Yet each are derived using entirely different information. Its human nature to generalize and simplify complicated subjects like the science of weather prediction. So as a result, we formulate a concrete, black and white, overly scaled down version of the weather. Whether its a long range winter outlook, a climate average for a wedding day or the thunderstorm chances for later this afternoon or a hurricane forecast track. It’s all the same animal to most! We subconsciously eliminate the nebulous science, weird-looking equations, fancy computer stuff in favor of a narrative that tells a better story. In short, The Old Farmers’ Almanac fits with how our brains are wired. It’s simple. It’s folksy with just enough science to make it credible. Why do we continue believing the Old Farmers’ Almanac? The simple answer is it makes us feel good!

So remember that Seasonal Outlooks are by their very nature formulated differently than day-to-day forecasts.  Let’s sit back and see if this summer will behave like we think it will.