Are Satellites Really Better at Predicting the Weather?

Image via Wikipedia

Today was a surprise! Snow came out of nowhere. I checked out my handy, dandy iPhone Weather app and it said my area was going to have a few ‘flurries‘. Being on the west coast, that usually means you see a few flakes, they may stick, but will melt before the end of the day. Yes, I am fortunate to live where I do…

But within an hour it was obvious this was no simple flurry. I re-checked my app and it said 2 to 4 cm. I looked out the window. We already had that, and it was still coming down heavy. My co-worker checked out the weather website ten minutes later, and there was a major snowfall warning! WTF?

This all happened within 2 hours. No snow to 15 cm just like that. Why did the weather forecast not see this coming?

I blame satellites. I’ve got to blame someone? Here’s why…

My grandfather worked on the Coast Guard Weather ships more than 40 years ago. He used to tell me stories about watching waves completely consume the boat, and the horrible conditions that the crew used to live through. They would take weather readings and send the readings back to the shore. He used to tell me that weather predictions were far more accurate then because it was people actually in the conditions reporting them. He claimed that satellites take pictures and the weather predictions are based not on the actual weather, but on how the person interpreted the image. There is far more room for error. I suppose the same argument is made for manning lighthouses instead of computerizing them.

Have you ever asked someone what the weather was like, and they looked it up on the computer or on their smart phone? Tonight, I was texting with someone who asked me if it was snowing here. It said it was on my iPhone widget. Was it actually snowing outside my house? I eventually got up and turned on the porch light to see that there was no snow falling…

Relying on satellite images, that filter down to all our computers, websites, smartphones, etc…reminds me of the stories I hear about people driving off a cliff or getting hit by a train because their GPS units didn’t have that data, and the person relied so heavily on technology, and so little on the conditions around them.

I’m not saying that meteorologists are bad at what they do, nor am I saying that the science behind weather prediction is flawed. I’m just saying that human experience and communicating that experience can provide a far more accurate interpretation of events than technology. At least that was the case today…

What do you think about the weather? Do you hate your weatherman?


One Reply to “Are Satellites Really Better at Predicting the Weather?”

Comments are closed.