5 Things Only Meteorologists Know About Weather Reports

Literally everyone checks the weather report, whether it's old people tuning in to the local news, young people Googling the five-day forecast, or crazy hermits checking the paper to see if a storm is going to play havoc with the tin-foil pyramid they're building. Another thing literally everyone does is complain about the weather forecast being wrong. We talked to a meteorologist, David, to learn how he predicts the weather. There's a 75 percent chance that everything he told us is accurate.

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5
Don't Trust Anything Past A Five-Day Forecast

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Everyone's had plans ruined thanks to an inaccurate weather report. That barbecue you planned for a sunny day got rained out, the winter storm you bundled up for failed to materialize, or the predicted locust plague didn't arrive and left you all dressed up in your best end-times toga for nothing. So, what? Are meteorologists just guessing? Well, that depends on the date you're looking at. "You can be the best meteorologist in the world and you aren't going to know what's going to happen [past] five days," David says.

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"Now for a look at our 10-day forecast: According to these chicken bones and my grandpa's trick knee,
we should see sunny days for your holiday cookouts."

One-day forecasts have an average accuracy within 2 degrees, and they predict rain (or a lack thereof) correctly 82 percent of the time. But the further ahead you try to predict, the harder it gets. While a five-day forecast is generally still pretty solid, anything beyond that is basically just voodoo practiced by a guy in a cheap suit.

"I'd say three days is going to be on the money, but some stations give 10 days. I've seen them predict snow on Christmas when it was only the 14th. There's no way we'll know that," David says. "For my college, I used a five-day forecast, but because of football season, I had to stretch it to seven. People got angry too. I would say clear skies in the 50s next Saturday, only for it to have frozen rain in the 30s. I read some angry comments, and people did not check my updated forecasts. They just assumed I was going to be right."

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"My phrenologist said your skull was trustworthy!"

It comes down to the same reasons predictions about the stock market, elections, and your dating life can all go horribly awry -- no matter how much past data and current trends you have access to, the future is uncertain. And the further into the future you look, the more uncertainty can play into it. "This is why we give more and more percentages now. We look at what's building, where the wind is going, and lots of other little factors," David says. "I use everything from real-time Doppler radar to a barometer installed here in the 1930s."

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And the biggest state-of-the-art weather-viewing portal money can buy.

Meteorology has improved a lot over the past few decades. Five-day forecasts are about as accurate as two-day forecasts were in the '80s, and long-range predictions are improving too. Hurricane Sandy's American landfall was predicted more than seven days in advance in 2012, which would have been witchcraft in the '70s. But the weather is still a product of Mother Nature, and that bitch doesn't really give a damn about our "science."

"Even overnight expected inches of snow or temperature or wind speeds can change," he says. "There is that joke in Groundhog Day about Bill Murray getting the weather wrong the next day. That happens more times than I would like to admit. And they never showed someone writing in the salt on my car 'Good prediction asshole.'"

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"And don't bother telling the cops. We're the ones that did it."

Meteorologists determine 10-day forecasts by evaluating historical data, pressure systems, cloud patterns, wind, what Old Man Jones is feeling in his bones, and much more. And even with all that data, six- to 10-day forecasts are 40 percent accurate, or only about 7 percent better than wild mass guessing. It's getting better, but for now, just plan your Saturday barbecues on Thursday instead of Monday.

4
No Station Has Super Special Equipment That Makes Them Better

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Everyone that reports the weather, from the Weather Channel to the local news, seems to have a different Doppler weather radar with a different badass name. L.A. has the Mega Doppler 7000. Cleveland has The Power of 5 Doppler. Norfolk has the Super Doppler 10. Southern Louisiana has the Power Doppler 3000. There must be some potent differences between these machines, not counting the different robots they transform into when angered, right?

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When Doppler Fury went haywire, eight good men died.

"All of those machines do the same thing," David says. "Getting a Doppler is like selecting an oil change for your car. You probably don't even know the brand, they all do the same thing, and it all looks the same. My college just uses 'Doppler.' It's just waves being sent out and coming back differently to show us a bunch of info. That's it." So all those different names are just a marketing scheme to get your attention, like how half a dozen different companies try to convince you that their gum has the minty freshness that will get you laid. "Any big city is going to have a lot of news stations, but they are all going to have the same weather equipment," he says.

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Here's what an actual weather station looks like:

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It's solar-powered so that even in bad weather we can ... shit.
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And here's what a TV station makes its effects look like:

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"Powered by the indomitable Doppler Infinity + 1!"

We're guessing that some hapless meteorologists have brought this up to station owners a few times, only to be told, "Fuck you and your boring science. We're making it look like our weather is reported by a nuclear submarine." In fact, David encountered this attitude in Chicago. "The chief meteorologist told me, 'We didn't used to do this, but adding "Super" or "Alert" to the weather segment gets people's attention. You either need a sexy woman giving the report, or you have to make it seem like you have the best of the best.'"

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"We interrupt this programming for a special End of Days weather bulletin!"

But if everyone is using the same basic equipment, why do different stations produce different predictions? Same reason two doctors can look at the same X-ray and reach different conclusions: They're taking the data provided and interpreting it based on their own knowledge, theories, and way of thinking. Or, if it's an automated service like a phone app, different apps will run different algorithms to reach a conclusion -- again, based on their creators' personal preferences. Basically, weather data is always open to some interpretation, so all you can do is pick the guy with the best teeth or the most hilarious name and stick it out.

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3
All The Boring Technical Stuff Can Mean The Difference Between Life And Death

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Meteorologists know a lot of fancy book-learning words that they're absolutely not allowed to use on-air, presumably because it just confuses the audience. Even if you, the informed viewer, happen to know the difference between a cumulonimbus cloud and a cirrus cloud, it still doesn't affect your decision on whether or not to wear jorts on the weekend. Just get to the meat. But David has found himself forced to use conversational language to the point where he was leaving out important information. "I was told not to write what the dew point was, the barometer, wind speed in knots, or other little tidbits some people need," he says.

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"If I ever hear you say the word 'meter' on-air again, you'll be predicting snowfall
for Saskatchewanian ice fishers for the rest of your life!"

That more technical side of the forecast is crucial for some people. Anyone who gets on a boat for a living needs to know whether they're waking up to a calm day on the waters or a 70 percent chance of reenacting a Marky Mark death scene. That's why we have wave-height and wind-speed measurements. Barometric pressure provides a useful heads-up for people who suffer from migraine headaches Farmers also appreciate the more detailed weather breakdown. And headache-prone boat farmers need everything all the time.

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2
Weather Forecasters Need No Education Whatsoever

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You often hear "weatherman" and "meteorologist" used interchangeably. The latter just seems like a fancier version of the former, like saying "educator" instead of "teacher" or "theoretical raid specialist" instead of "unemployed World Of Warcraft addict." But there's a massive difference in education level, in that meteorologists have a relevant one and weatherpeople don't. Or, as David explains, a weather forecaster needs to be attractive: "Weathermen and -women just need good bone structure: Meteorologists need degrees and extensive scientific training."

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And the sort of work ethic that only dozens of character-building wedgies can imbue.

On the one hand, the meteorologists have to do all the hard science work, while the weatherperson just has to point and speak and collect their paycheck. But it's the weather forecaster who gets mocked and complained to when forecasts are wrong, while the unknown meteorologist can hide the shame of their failings. It's like having a built-in scapegoat.

In theory, this shouldn't affect you -- even if the weatherperson is just a pretty face and a sexy voice, they're still getting their info fed to them by an educated (albeit less conventionally attractive) scientist. But if you want to know if your weather forecaster has the brains to go with the TV news beauty, consult the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. They have a seal of approval for meteorologists, which is presumably a sunglasses-wearing cartoon sun giving a thumbs-up.

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And blessed by Stormy Monday, the patron saint of weather predictions, blues songs, and stripper names.

1
News Stations Hype Up Deadly Weather Because It's Great For Ratings

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Failing to predict rain or a few inches of snow is one thing, but missing a hurricane or a blizzard is almost like having blood on your hands. David took every tornado warning seriously when he was doing college weather, even though most tornado warnings end up being relatively harmless. "I think the only people I warned were students staying up late who were on the school site, but I like to think it was a few. Plus, as urgent as tornadoes are, they only cut really narrow swaths of destruction."

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"Fuck those two-and-a-half houses. Cul-de-sac, we're cool." -God

But with hurricanes, a meteorologist really needs to be sure. You'd be pretty pissed off if the forecaster completely failed to warn you about something as major as a hurricane. Or maybe you'd be dead, but hopefully someone would get pissed on your behalf. And while it's unlikely that every meteorologist in the area is going to miss Hurricane Katrina 2: This Time It's In Delaware, it has happened. In 1987, BBC weatherman Michael Fish said a hurricane wasn't on the way ...

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... and then 19 people died. That's what those in the weather business call an "oopsie." That's why they practice "better safe than sorry" now. Remember the January 2015 East Coast snowpocalypse that turned out to be a mild inconvenience at worst? It's not like there was a shortage of radar and weather satellites and shamans to pull information from, but the predictions were wrong because weather is always unpredictable. We could build the Skynet of weather and it still wouldn't be perfect, because nature is a spiteful and fickle mistress.

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A mistress that you don't even get the satisfaction of hooking up with, which is the worst kind of mistress.

Besides, disaster pays the bills: When bad weather comes, ratings spike. So your local weather forecaster has kind of a vested interest in seeing your town at least hypothetically destroyed by Mother Nature's righteous fury.

"Everyone working in weather would get excited if a snowstorm was coming or if a major hurricane was going to move up land and hit us with rain. I was interning in 2005 and 2006, so we really watched where hurricane remnants were going," David says. "Our chief meteorologist even said, 'Katrina is curving into Michigan. Shit. I was hoping it would hit us.' And, 'We're going to get rain from Rita! Send [a weatherman] outside for a report!' And other terrible things. Those were front-page-news storms, and since they came our way, people watched."

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"We've got Roker-throwing winds out there, people! Get those cameras rolling!"

Declining local news ratings has made networks even hungrier for that sweet weather traffic -- so when a snowstorm rolls through your area, you can expect your local meteorologist to start dropping hashtags like a 45-year-old's understanding of a teenager. David says, "When a storm is coming, I'll put the headline in bold and use keywords. Freezing. Below Zero. Blizzard. White Out. Don't go outside. It gets traffic."

Huh. Using hyperbolic buzzwords in an attempt to get traffic? We can't condone that mind-blowingly insane practice at all.

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Evan V. Symon is a personal experience team member, writer and interview finder guy for Cracked. Have an awesome job/experience? Hit us up at tips@cracked.com today!

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