How hard do weather forecasters work?

In the wake of a remarkable, but not perfect, forecast of a paralyzing blizzard that affected the Northeast last week, one may wonder how much effort is expended by an individual forecaster.

Since it takes only a minute or two to deliver a forecast on the evening news, it is easy to mistakenly view the process as taking very little effort or care.

In reality, the short broadcast time is supported by many hours of intense, professional effort divided among a multitude of difficult tasks.

Perhaps first on that list, the forecaster must gain a comprehensive understanding of the current observations throughout the atmosphere and over a large region of the country.

This process alerts her to the features in the atmosphere that will likely have a bearing on tomorrow’s weather in her region. She must then consult the numerical model guidance to incorporate the model forecast information into her evolving sense of what tomorrow will be like.

Then, she likely consults with other learned colleagues — all of whom are constantly putting their hard-won knowledge of how the atmosphere works into practice. Arguing about their separate interpretations of what is coming is among the most challenging and time-consuming aspects of the job.

By this point in the process a forecaster is likely to have spent several hours of preparation time. The forecaster has other duties as well, such as working with authorities to support their decision-making process, answering public questions and working with the producer, as well as administrative tasks.

Thus the final product — the public broadcast of the forecast — is actually only a small part of a much more elaborate and challenging process designed to produce a result with direct relevance to the lives of many thousands of people.  It is hard to judge what a given job really entails on the basis of uninformed assumptions that arise from one’s own limited experience with the nature of the task.

Category: Meteorology, Severe Weather

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