How were recent heavy rains so well-predicted so many days in advance?

Though we have been relatively dry for much of the autumn, on the weekend of Oct. 13-14 we received a soaking rain of 0.86 inches on Saturday followed by 1.74 inches on Sunday. Two aspects of this heavy rain event are noteworthy to us. First, though Madison averages an inch of rain in a single day about six times each year, the 1.74 inches that fell on Sunday was the most in a single calendar day in Madison since 3.61 inches of rain fell on July 22, 2010. That long stretch includes two full summers (2011 and 2012) in which we never received such a rain.

Second, the rainy weekend was clearly in the forecast for almost seven days in advance. In other words, at the end of the prior weekend, it was clear that next weekend was going to be a washout.

That forecasting success is a particular example of a revolution that has quietly occurred in the science of numerical weather prediction (forecasting with the aid of high-speed computers) over the last 30 years. It used to be that the one- to two-day forecast was the apex of forecasting skill but the combination of more powerful computers and continued research into the underlying science of weather systems has led to our present ability to forecast the weather sometimes several days in advance.

It is exciting to imagine where the state of the science may be in another 30 years.

Category: Meteorology
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