Weather forecasting

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Forecast of surface pressures five days into the future for the North Pacific, North America, and the North Atlantic Ocean Day5pressureforecast.png
Forecast of surface pressures five days into the future for the North Pacific, North America, and the North Atlantic Ocean

Weather forecasting is the application of science and technology to predict the conditions of the atmosphere for a given location and time. People have attempted to predict the weather informally for millennia and formally since the 19th century. Weather forecasts are made by collecting quantitative data about the current state of the atmosphere at a given place and using meteorology to project how the atmosphere will change.

Weather Short-term state of the atmosphere

Weather is the state of the atmosphere, describing for example the degree to which it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the lowest level of the atmosphere, the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate is the term for the averaging of atmospheric conditions over longer periods of time. When used without qualification, "weather" is generally understood to mean the weather of Earth.

19th century Century

The 19th (nineteenth) century was a century that began on January 1, 1801, and ended on December 31, 1900. It is often used interchangeably with the 1800s, though the start and end dates differ by a year.

Data facts represented for handling

Data is a set of values of subjects with respect to qualitative or quantitative variables.


Once calculated by hand based mainly upon changes in barometric pressure, current weather conditions, and sky condition or cloud cover, weather forecasting now relies on computer-based models that take many atmospheric factors into account. [1] Human input is still required to pick the best possible forecast model to base the forecast upon, which involves pattern recognition skills, teleconnections, knowledge of model performance, and knowledge of model biases. The inaccuracy of forecasting is due to the chaotic nature of the atmosphere, the massive computational power required to solve the equations that describe the atmosphere, the error involved in measuring the initial conditions, and an incomplete understanding of atmospheric processes. Hence, forecasts become less accurate as the difference between current time and the time for which the forecast is being made (the range of the forecast) increases. The use of ensembles and model consensus help narrow the error and pick the most likely outcome.

Atmospheric pressure, sometimes also called barometric pressure, is the pressure within the atmosphere of Earth. The standard atmosphere is a unit of pressure defined as 1013.25 mbar (101325 Pa), equivalent to 760 mm Hg (torr), 29.9212 inches Hg, or 14.696 psi. The atm unit is roughly equivalent to the mean sea-level atmospheric pressure on Earth, that is, the Earth's atmospheric pressure at sea level is approximately 1 atm.

Cloud Visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals suspended in the atmosphere

In meteorology, a cloud is an aerosol consisting of a visible mass of minute liquid droplets, frozen crystals, or other particles suspended in the atmosphere of a planetary body or similar space. Water or various other chemicals may compose the droplets and crystals. On Earth, clouds are formed as a result of saturation of the air when it is cooled to its dew point, or when it gains sufficient moisture from an adjacent source to raise the dew point to the ambient temperature. They are seen in the Earth's homosphere. Nephology is the science of clouds, which is undertaken in the cloud physics branch of meteorology.

Numerical weather prediction uses mathematical models of the atmosphere and oceans to predict the weather based on current weather conditions

Numerical weather prediction (NWP) uses mathematical models of the atmosphere and oceans to predict the weather based on current weather conditions. Though first attempted in the 1920s, it was not until the advent of computer simulation in the 1950s that numerical weather predictions produced realistic results. A number of global and regional forecast models are run in different countries worldwide, using current weather observations relayed from radiosondes, weather satellites and other observing systems as inputs.

There are a variety of end uses to weather forecasts. Weather warnings are important forecasts because they are used to protect life and property. Forecasts based on temperature and precipitation are important to agriculture, and therefore to traders within commodity markets. Temperature forecasts are used by utility companies to estimate demand over coming days. On an everyday basis, people use weather forecasts to determine what to wear on a given day. Since outdoor activities are severely curtailed by heavy rain, snow and wind chill, forecasts can be used to plan activities around these events, and to plan ahead and survive them. In 2009, the US spent $5.1 billion on weather forecasting. [2]

Temperature physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold

Temperature is a physical quantity expressing hot and cold. It is measured with a thermometer calibrated in one or more temperature scales. The most commonly used scales are the Celsius scale, Fahrenheit scale, and Kelvin scale. The kelvin is the unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI), in which temperature is one of the seven fundamental base quantities. The Kelvin scale is widely used in science and technology.

Agriculture Cultivation of plants and animals to provide useful products

Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture into the twenty-first.

Wind chill

Wind-chill or windchill is the lowering of body temperature due to the passing-flow of lower-temperature air.


Ancient forecasting

For millennia people have tried to forecast the weather. In 650 BC, the Babylonians predicted the weather from cloud patterns as well as astrology. In about 350 BC, Aristotle described weather patterns in Meteorologica . [3] Later, Theophrastus compiled a book on weather forecasting, called the Book of Signs. [4] Chinese weather prediction lore extends at least as far back as 300 BC, [5] which was also around the same time ancient Indian astronomers developed weather-prediction methods. [6] In New Testament times, Christ himself referred to deciphering and understanding local weather patterns, by saying, "When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red', and in the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." [7]

Babylonia Ancient Akkadian region in Mesopotamia

Babylonia was an ancient Akkadian-speaking state and cultural area based in central-southern Mesopotamia. A small Amorite-ruled state emerged in 1894 BC, which contained the minor administrative town of Babylon. It was merely a small provincial town during the Akkadian Empire but greatly expanded during the reign of Hammurabi in the first half of the 18th century BC and became a major capital city. During the reign of Hammurabi and afterwards, Babylonia was called "the country of Akkad", a deliberate archaism in reference to the previous glory of the Akkadian Empire.

Astrology Pseudoscience claiming celestial objects influence human affairs

Astrology is a pseudoscience that claims to divine information about human affairs and terrestrial events by studying the movements and relative positions of celestial objects. Astrology has been dated to at least the 2nd millennium BCE, and has its roots in calendrical systems used to predict seasonal shifts and to interpret celestial cycles as signs of divine communications. Many cultures have attached importance to astronomical events, and some—such as the Hindus, Chinese, and the Maya—developed elaborate systems for predicting terrestrial events from celestial observations. Western astrology, one of the oldest astrological systems still in use, can trace its roots to 19th–17th century BCE Mesopotamia, from which it spread to Ancient Greece, Rome, the Arab world and eventually Central and Western Europe. Contemporary Western astrology is often associated with systems of horoscopes that purport to explain aspects of a person's personality and predict significant events in their lives based on the positions of celestial objects; the majority of professional astrologers rely on such systems.

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was a philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he is considered the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

In 904 AD, Ibn Wahshiyya's Nabatean Agriculture, translated into Arabic from an earlier Aramaic work, [8] discussed the weather forecasting of atmospheric changes and signs from the planetary astral alterations; signs of rain based on observation of the lunar phases; and weather forecasts based on the movement of winds. [9]

Ibn Wahshiyya Iraqi writer, agronomist and historian

Ibn Wahshiyyah the Nabataean, also known as ʾAbū Bakr ʾAḥmad bin ʿAlī was an Arab alchemist, agriculturalist, farm toxicologist, Egyptologist, and historian born at Qusayn near Kufa in Iraq. He was the first historian to be able to at least partly decipher what was written in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, by relating them to the contemporary Coptic language.

Lunar phase appearance of the illuminated (sunlit) portion of the Moon as seen by an observer

The lunar phase or phase of the Moon is the shape of the directly sunlit portion of the Moon as viewed from Earth. The lunar phases gradually and cyclically change over the period of a synodic month, as the orbital positions of the Moon around Earth and of Earth around the Sun shift.

Ancient weather forecasting methods usually relied on observed patterns of events, also termed pattern recognition. For example, it might be observed that if the sunset was particularly red, the following day often brought fair weather. This experience accumulated over the generations to produce weather lore. However, not all[ which? ] of these predictions prove reliable, and many of them have since been found not to stand up to rigorous statistical testing. [10]

Weather lore

Weather lore is the body of informal folklore related to the prediction of the weather.

Modern methods

The Royal Charter sank in an 1859 storm, stimulating the establishment of modern weather forecasting. StateLibQld 1 186783 Royal Charter (ship).jpg
The Royal Charter sank in an 1859 storm, stimulating the establishment of modern weather forecasting.

It was not until the invention of the electric telegraph in 1835 that the modern age of weather forecasting began. [11] Before that, the fastest that distant weather reports could travel was around 100 miles per day (160 km/d), but was more typically 40–75 miles per day (60–120 km/day) (whether by land or by sea). [12] [13] By the late 1840s, the telegraph allowed reports of weather conditions from a wide area to be received almost instantaneously, [14] allowing forecasts to be made from knowledge of weather conditions further upwind.

The two men credited with the birth of forecasting as a science were an officer of the Royal Navy Francis Beaufort and his protégé Robert FitzRoy. Both were influential men in British naval and governmental circles, and though ridiculed in the press at the time, their work gained scientific credence, was accepted by the Royal Navy, and formed the basis for all of today's weather forecasting knowledge. [15] [16]

Beaufort developed the Wind Force Scale and Weather Notation coding, which he was to use in his journals for the remainder of his life. He also promoted the development of reliable tide tables around British shores, and with his friend William Whewell, expanded weather record-keeping at 200 British Coast guard stations.

Robert FitzRoy was appointed in 1854 as chief of a new department within the Board of Trade to deal with the collection of weather data at sea as a service to mariners. This was the forerunner of the modern Meteorological Office. [16] All ship captains were tasked with collating data on the weather and computing it, with the use of tested instruments that were loaned for this purpose. [17]

Weather map of Europe, December 10, 1887. Meyers b16 s0570.jpg
Weather map of Europe, December 10, 1887.

A storm in 1859 that caused the loss of the Royal Charter inspired FitzRoy to develop charts to allow predictions to be made, which he called "forecasting the weather", thus coining the term "weather forecast". [17] Fifteen land stations were established to use the telegraph to transmit to him daily reports of weather at set times leading to the first gale warning service. His warning service for shipping was initiated in February 1861, with the use of telegraph communications. The first daily weather forecasts were published in The Times in 1861. [16] In the following year a system was introduced of hoisting storm warning cones at the principal ports when a gale was expected. [18] The "Weather Book" which FitzRoy published in 1863 was far in advance of the scientific opinion of the time.

As the electric telegraph network expanded, allowing for the more rapid dissemination of warnings, a national observational network was developed, which could then be used to provide synoptic analyses. Instruments to continuously record variations in meteorological parameters using photography were supplied to the observing stations from Kew Observatory – these cameras had been invented by Francis Ronalds in 1845 and his barograph had earlier been used by FitzRoy. [19] [20]

To convey accurate information, it soon became necessary to have a standard vocabulary describing clouds; this was achieved by means of a series of classifications first achieved by Luke Howard in 1802, and standardized in the International Cloud Atlas of 1896.

Numerical prediction

It was not until the 20th century that advances in the understanding of atmospheric physics led to the foundation of modern numerical weather prediction. In 1922, English scientist Lewis Fry Richardson published "Weather Prediction By Numerical Process", [21] after finding notes and derivations he worked on as an ambulance driver in World War I. He described therein how small terms in the prognostic fluid dynamics equations governing atmospheric flow could be neglected, and a finite differencing scheme in time and space could be devised, to allow numerical prediction solutions to be found.

Richardson envisioned a large auditorium of thousands of people performing the calculations and passing them to others. However, the sheer number of calculations required was too large to be completed without the use of computers, and the size of the grid and time steps led to unrealistic results in deepening systems. It was later found, through numerical analysis, that this was due to numerical instability. [22] The first computerised weather forecast was performed by a team composed of American meteorologists Jule Charney, Philip Thompson, Larry Gates, and Norwegian meteorologist Ragnar Fjørtoft, applied mathematician John von Neumann, and ENIAC programmer Klara Dan von Neumann. [23] [24] [25] Practical use of numerical weather prediction began in 1955, [26] spurred by the development of programmable electronic computers.


The first ever daily weather forecasts were published in The Times on August 1, 1861, and the first weather maps were produced later in the same year. [27] In 1911, the Met Office began issuing the first marine weather forecasts via radio transmission. These included gale and storm warnings for areas around Great Britain. [28] In the United States, the first public radio forecasts were made in 1925 by Edward B. "E.B." Rideout, on WEEI, the Edison Electric Illuminating station in Boston. [29] Rideout came from the U.S. Weather Bureau, as did WBZ weather forecaster G. Harold Noyes in 1931.

The world's first televised weather forecasts, including the use of weather maps, were experimentally broadcast by the BBC in 1936. This was brought into practice in 1949 after World War II. George Cowling gave the first weather forecast while being televised in front of the map in 1954. [30] [31] In America, experimental television forecasts were made by James C Fidler in Cincinnati in either 1940 or 1947 on the DuMont Television Network. [29] [32] In the late 1970s and early 80s, John Coleman, the first weatherman on ABC-TV's Good Morning America, pioneered the use of on-screen weather satellite information and computer graphics for television forecasts. [33] Coleman was a co-founder of The Weather Channel (TWC) in 1982. TWC is now a 24-hour cable network. Some weather channels have started broadcasting on live broadcasting programs such as YouTube and Periscope to reach more viewers.

How models create forecasts

An example of 500 mbar geopotential height and absolute vorticity prediction from a numerical weather prediction model NAM 500 MB.PNG
An example of 500 mbar geopotential height and absolute vorticity prediction from a numerical weather prediction model

The basic idea of numerical weather prediction is to sample the state of the fluid at a given time and use the equations of fluid dynamics and thermodynamics to estimate the state of the fluid at some time in the future. The main inputs from country-based weather services are surface observations from automated weather stations at ground level over land and from weather buoys at sea. The World Meteorological Organization acts to standardize the instrumentation, observing practices and timing of these observations worldwide. Stations either report hourly in METAR reports, [34] or every six hours in SYNOP reports. [35] Sites launch radiosondes, which rise through the depth of the troposphere and well into the stratosphere. [36] Data from weather satellites are used in areas where traditional data sources are not available. [37] [38] [39] Compared with similar data from radiosondes, the satellite data has the advantage of global coverage, however at a lower accuracy and resolution. [40] Meteorological radar provide information on precipitation location and intensity, which can be used to estimate precipitation accumulations over time. [41] Additionally, if a pulse Doppler weather radar is used then wind speed and direction can be determined. [42]

Modern weather predictions aid in timely evacuations and potentially save lives and prevent property damage 2005-09-22-10PM CDT Hurricane Rita 3 day path.png
Modern weather predictions aid in timely evacuations and potentially save lives and prevent property damage

Commerce provides pilot reports along aircraft routes, [43] and ship reports along shipping routes. Research flights using reconnaissance aircraft fly in and around weather systems of interest such as tropical cyclones. [44] [45] Reconnaissance aircraft are also flown over the open oceans during the cold season into systems that cause significant uncertainty in forecast guidance, or are expected to be of high impact 3–7 days into the future over the downstream continent. [46]

Models are initialized using this observed data. The irregularly spaced observations are processed by data assimilation and objective analysis methods, which perform quality control and obtain values at locations usable by the model's mathematical algorithms (usually an evenly spaced grid). The data are then used in the model as the starting point for a forecast. [47] Commonly, the set of equations used to predict the known as the physics and dynamics of the atmosphere are called primitive equations. These equations are initialized from the analysis data and rates of change are determined. The rates of change predict the state of the atmosphere a short time into the future. The equations are then applied to this new atmospheric state to find new rates of change, and these new rates of change predict the atmosphere at a yet further time into the future. This time stepping procedure is continually repeated until the solution reaches the desired forecast time.

The length of the time step chosen within the model is related to the distance between the points on the computational grid, and is chosen to maintain numerical stability. [48] Time steps for global models are on the order of tens of minutes, [49] while time steps for regional models are between one and four minutes. [50] The global models are run at varying times into the future. The Met Office's Unified Model is run six days into the future, [51] the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts model is run out to 10 days into the future, [52] while the Global Forecast System model run by the Environmental Modeling Center is run 16 days into the future. [53] The visual output produced by a model solution is known as a prognostic chart, or prog. [54] The raw output is often modified before being presented as the forecast. This can be in the form of statistical techniques to remove known biases in the model, or of adjustment to take into account consensus among other numerical weather forecasts. [55] MOS or model output statistics is a technique used to interpret numerical model output and produce site-specific guidance. This guidance is presented in coded numerical form, and can be obtained for nearly all National Weather Service reporting stations in the United States. As proposed by Edward Lorenz in 1963, long range forecasts, those made at a range of two weeks or more, are impossible to definitively predict the state of the atmosphere, owing to the chaotic nature of the fluid dynamics equations involved. In numerical models, extremely small errors in initial values double roughly every five days for variables such as temperature and wind velocity. [56]

Essentially, a model is a computer program that produces meteorological information for future times at given locations and altitudes. Within any modern model is a set of equations, known as the primitive equations, used to predict the future state of the atmosphere. [57] These equations—along with the ideal gas law—are used to evolve the density, pressure, and potential temperature scalar fields and the velocity vector field of the atmosphere through time. Additional transport equations for pollutants and other aerosols are included in some primitive-equation mesoscale models as well. [58] The equations used are nonlinear partial differential equations, which are impossible to solve exactly through analytical methods, [59] with the exception of a few idealized cases. [60] Therefore, numerical methods obtain approximate solutions. Different models use different solution methods: some global models use spectral methods for the horizontal dimensions and finite difference methods for the vertical dimension, while regional models and other global models usually use finite-difference methods in all three dimensions. [59]



The simplest method of forecasting the weather, persistence, relies upon today's conditions to forecast the conditions tomorrow. This can be a valid way of forecasting the weather when it is in a steady state, such as during the summer season in the tropics. This method of forecasting strongly depends upon the presence of a stagnant weather pattern. Therefore, when in a fluctuating weather pattern, this method of forecasting becomes inaccurate. It can be useful in both short range forecasts and long range forecasts. [61]

Use of a barometer

Measurements of barometric pressure and the pressure tendency (the change of pressure over time) have been used in forecasting since the late 19th century. [62] The larger the change in pressure, especially if more than 3.5  hPa (2.6  mmHg ), the larger the change in weather can be expected. If the pressure drop is rapid, a low pressure system is approaching, and there is a greater chance of rain. Rapid pressure rises are associated with improving weather conditions, such as clearing skies. [63]

Looking at the sky

Marestail shows moisture at high altitude, signalling the later arrival of wet weather. Marestail.jpg
Marestail shows moisture at high altitude, signalling the later arrival of wet weather.

Along with pressure tendency, the condition of the sky is one of the more important parameters used to forecast weather in mountainous areas. Thickening of cloud cover or the invasion of a higher cloud deck is indicative of rain in the near future. High thin cirrostratus clouds can create halos around the sun or moon, which indicates an approach of a warm front and its associated rain. [64] Morning fog portends fair conditions, as rainy conditions are preceded by wind or clouds that prevent fog formation. The approach of a line of thunderstorms could indicate the approach of a cold front. Cloud-free skies are indicative of fair weather for the near future. [65] A bar can indicate a coming tropical cyclone. The use of sky cover in weather prediction has led to various weather lore over the centuries. [10]


The forecasting of the weather within the next six hours is often referred to as nowcasting. [66] In this time range it is possible to forecast smaller features such as individual showers and thunderstorms with reasonable accuracy, as well as other features too small to be resolved by a computer model. A human given the latest radar, satellite and observational data will be able to make a better analysis of the small scale features present and so will be able to make a more accurate forecast for the following few hours. [67] However, there are now expert systems using those data and mesoscale numerical model to make better extrapolation, including evolution of those features in time.

Use of forecast models

An example of 500 mbar geopotential height prediction from a numerical weather prediction model NAM 500 MB.PNG
An example of 500 mbar geopotential height prediction from a numerical weather prediction model

In the past, the human forecaster was responsible for generating the entire weather forecast based upon available observations. [68] Today, human input is generally confined to choosing a model based on various parameters, such as model biases and performance. [69] Using a consensus of forecast models, as well as ensemble members of the various models, can help reduce forecast error. [70] However, regardless how small the average error becomes with any individual system, large errors within any particular piece of guidance are still possible on any given model run. [71] Humans are required to interpret the model data into weather forecasts that are understandable to the end user. Humans can use knowledge of local effects that may be too small in size to be resolved by the model to add information to the forecast. While increasing accuracy of forecast models implies that humans may no longer be needed in the forecast process at some point in the future, there is currently still a need for human intervention. [72]

Analog technique

The analog technique is a complex way of making a forecast, requiring the forecaster to remember a previous weather event that is expected to be mimicked by an upcoming event. What makes it a difficult technique to use is that there is rarely a perfect analog for an event in the future. [73] Some call this type of forecasting pattern recognition. It remains a useful method of observing rainfall over data voids such as oceans, [74] as well as the forecasting of precipitation amounts and distribution in the future. A similar technique is used in medium range forecasting, which is known as teleconnections, when systems in other locations are used to help pin down the location of another system within the surrounding regime. [75] An example of teleconnections are by using El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) related phenomena. [76]

Communicating forecasts to the public

An example of a two-day weather forecast in the visual style that an American newspaper might use. Temperatures are given in Fahrenheit. Newspaper weather forecast - today and tomorrow.svg
An example of a two-day weather forecast in the visual style that an American newspaper might use. Temperatures are given in Fahrenheit.

Most end users of forecasts are members of the general public. Thunderstorms can create strong winds and dangerous lightning strikes that can lead to deaths, power outages, [77] and widespread hail damage. Heavy snow or rain can bring transportation and commerce to a stand-still, [78] as well as cause flooding in low-lying areas. [79] Excessive heat or cold waves can sicken or kill those with inadequate utilities, and droughts can impact water usage and destroy vegetation.

Several countries employ government agencies to provide forecasts and watches/warnings/advisories to the public in order to protect life and property and maintain commercial interests. Knowledge of what the end user needs from a weather forecast must be taken into account to present the information in a useful and understandable way. Examples include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service (NWS) [80] and Environment Canada's Meteorological Service (MSC). [81] Traditionally, newspaper, television, and radio have been the primary outlets for presenting weather forecast information to the public. In addition, some cities had weather beacons. Increasingly, the internet is being used due to the vast amount of specific information that can be found. [82] In all cases, these outlets update their forecasts on a regular basis.

Severe weather alerts and advisories

A major part of modern weather forecasting is the severe weather alerts and advisories that the national weather services issue in the case that severe or hazardous weather is expected. This is done to protect life and property. [83] Some of the most commonly known of severe weather advisories are the severe thunderstorm and tornado warning, as well as the severe thunderstorm and tornado watch. Other forms of these advisories include winter weather, high wind, flood, tropical cyclone, and fog. [84] Severe weather advisories and alerts are broadcast through the media, including radio, using emergency systems as the Emergency Alert System, which break into regular programming. [85]

Low temperature forecast

The low temperature forecast for the current day is calculated using the lowest temperature found between 7 pm that evening through 7 am the following morning. [86] So, in short, today's forecasted low is most likely tomorrow's low temperature.

Specialist forecasting

There are a number of sectors with their own specific needs for weather forecasts and specialist services are provided to these users.

Air traffic

Ash cloud from the 2008 eruption of Chaiten volcano stretching across Patagonia from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean Plume from eruption of Chaiten volcano, Chile.jpg
Ash cloud from the 2008 eruption of Chaitén volcano stretching across Patagonia from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean

Because the aviation industry is especially sensitive to the weather, accurate weather forecasting is essential. Fog or exceptionally low ceilings can prevent many aircraft from landing and taking off. [87] Turbulence and icing are also significant in-flight hazards. [88] Thunderstorms are a problem for all aircraft because of severe turbulence due to their updrafts and outflow boundaries, [89] icing due to the heavy precipitation, as well as large hail, strong winds, and lightning, all of which can cause severe damage to an aircraft in flight. [90] Volcanic ash is also a significant problem for aviation, as aircraft can lose engine power within ash clouds. [91] On a day-to-day basis airliners are routed to take advantage of the jet stream tailwind to improve fuel efficiency. [92] Aircrews are briefed prior to takeoff on the conditions to expect en route and at their destination. [93] Additionally, airports often change which runway is being used to take advantage of a headwind. This reduces the distance required for takeoff, and eliminates potential crosswinds. [94]


Commercial and recreational use of waterways can be limited significantly by wind direction and speed, wave periodicity and heights, tides, and precipitation. These factors can each influence the safety of marine transit. Consequently, a variety of codes have been established to efficiently transmit detailed marine weather forecasts to vessel pilots via radio, for example the MAFOR (marine forecast). [95] Typical weather forecasts can be received at sea through the use of RTTY, Navtex and Radiofax.


Farmers rely on weather forecasts to decide what work to do on any particular day. For example, drying hay is only feasible in dry weather. Prolonged periods of dryness can ruin cotton, wheat, [96] and corn crops. While corn crops can be ruined by drought, their dried remains can be used as a cattle feed substitute in the form of silage. [97] Frosts and freezes play havoc with crops both during the spring and fall. For example, peach trees in full bloom can have their potential peach crop decimated by a spring freeze. [98] Orange groves can suffer significant damage during frosts and freezes, regardless of their timing. [99]


Weather forecasting of wind, precipitations and humidity is essential for preventing and controlling wildfires. Different indices, like the Forest fire weather index and the Haines Index , have been developed to predict the areas more at risk to experience fire from natural or human causes. Conditions for the development of harmful insects can be predicted by forecasting the evolution of weather, too.

Utility companies

An air handling unit is used for the heating and cooling of air in a central location (click on image for legend). Air handling unit.JPG
An air handling unit is used for the heating and cooling of air in a central location (click on image for legend).

Electricity and gas companies rely on weather forecasts to anticipate demand, which can be strongly affected by the weather. They use the quantity termed the degree day to determine how strong of a use there will be for heating (heating degree day) or cooling (cooling degree day). These quantities are based on a daily average temperature of 65 °F (18 °C). Cooler temperatures force heating degree days (one per degree Fahrenheit), while warmer temperatures force cooling degree days. [100] In winter, severe cold weather can cause a surge in demand as people turn up their heating. [101] Similarly, in summer a surge in demand can be linked with the increased use of air conditioning systems in hot weather. [102] By anticipating a surge in demand, utility companies can purchase additional supplies of power or natural gas before the price increases, or in some circumstances, supplies are restricted through the use of brownouts and blackouts. [103]

Other commercial companies

Increasingly, private companies pay for weather forecasts tailored to their needs so that they can increase their profits or avoid large losses. [104] For example, supermarket chains may change the stocks on their shelves in anticipation of different consumer spending habits in different weather conditions. Weather forecasts can be used to invest in the commodity market, such as futures in oranges, corn, soybeans, and oil. [105]

Military applications

United Kingdom Armed Forces

Royal Navy

The UK Royal Navy, working with the UK Met Office, has its own specialist branch of weather observers and forecasters, as part of the Hydrographic and Meteorological (HM) specialisation, who monitor and forecast operational conditions across the globe, to provide accurate and timely weather and oceanographic information to submarines, ships and Fleet Air Arm aircraft.

Royal Air Force

A mobile unit in the RAF, working with the UK Met Office, forecasts the weather for regions in which British, allied servicemen and women are deployed. A group based at Camp Bastion provides forecasts for the British armed forces in Afghanistan. [106]

United States Armed Forces

US Navy

Emblem of JTWC Joint Typhoon Warning Center Npmoc.gif
Emblem of JTWC Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Similar to the private sector, military weather forecasters present weather conditions to the war fighter community. Military weather forecasters provide pre-flight and in-flight weather briefs to pilots and provide real time resource protection services for military installations. Naval forecasters cover the waters and ship weather forecasts. The United States Navy provides a special service to both themselves and the rest of the federal government by issuing forecasts for tropical cyclones across the Pacific and Indian Oceans through their Joint Typhoon Warning Center. [107]

US Air Force

Within the United States, Air Force Weather provides weather forecasting for the Air Force and the Army. Air Force forecasters cover air operations in both wartime and peacetime operations and provide Army support; [108] United States Coast Guard marine science technicians provide ship forecasts for ice breakers and other various operations within their realm; [109] and Marine forecasters provide support for ground- and air-based United States Marine Corps operations. [110] All four military branches take their initial enlisted meteorology technical training at Keesler Air Force Base. [111] Military and civilian forecasters actively cooperate in analyzing, creating and critiquing weather forecast products.

See also

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Climate Statistics of weather conditions in a given region over long periods

Climate is defined as the average state of everyday's weather condition over a period of 30 years. It is measured by assessing the patterns of variation in temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, precipitation, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological variables in a given region over long periods of time. Climate differs from weather, in that weather only describes the short-term conditions of these variables in a given region.

European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts organization

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is an independent intergovernmental organisation supported by most of the nations of Europe and is based at Shinfield Park, Reading, United Kingdom. It operates one of the largest supercomputer complexes in Europe and the world's largest archive of numerical weather prediction data.

Meteorology Interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere focusing on weather forecasting

Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences which includes atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric physics, with a major focus on weather forecasting. The study of meteorology dates back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw modest progress in the field after weather observation networks were formed across broad regions. Prior attempts at prediction of weather depended on historical data. It was not until after the elucidation of the laws of physics and more particularly, the development of the computer, allowing for the automated solution of a great many equations that model the weather, in the latter half of the 20th century that significant breakthroughs in weather forecasting were achieved. An important domain of weather forecasting is marine weather forecasting as it relates to maritime and coastal safety, in which weather effects also include atmospheric interactions with large bodies of water.

Climatology The scientific study of climate, defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time

Climatology or climate science is the scientific study of climate, scientifically defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time. This modern field of study is regarded as a branch of the atmospheric sciences and a subfield of physical geography, which is one of the Earth sciences. Climatology now includes aspects of oceanography and biogeochemistry. Basic knowledge of climate can be used within shorter term weather forecasting using analog techniques such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO), the Northern Annular Mode (NAM) which is also known as the Arctic oscillation (AO), the Northern Pacific (NP) Index, the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), and the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO). Climate models are used for a variety of purposes from study of the dynamics of the weather and climate system to projections of future climate. Weather is known as the condition of the atmosphere over a period of time, while climate has to do with the atmospheric condition over an extended to indefinite period of time.

General circulation model A type of climate model that uses the Navier–Stokes equations on a rotating sphere with thermodynamic terms for various energy sources

A general circulation model (GCM) is a type of climate model. It employs a mathematical model of the general circulation of a planetary atmosphere or ocean. It uses the Navier–Stokes equations on a rotating sphere with thermodynamic terms for various energy sources. These equations are the basis for computer programs used to simulate the Earth's atmosphere or oceans. Atmospheric and oceanic GCMs are key components along with sea ice and land-surface components.

National Weather Service United States weather agency

The National Weather Service (NWS) is an agency of the United States federal government that is tasked with providing weather forecasts, warnings of hazardous weather, and other weather-related products to organizations and the public for the purposes of protection, safety, and general information. It is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) branch of the Department of Commerce, and is headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, within the Washington metropolitan area. The agency was known as the United States Weather Bureau from 1890 until it adopted its current name in 1970.

Edward Norton Lorenz American mathematician and meteorologist

Edward Norton Lorenz was an American mathematician and meteorologist who established the theoretical basis of weather and climate predictability, as well as the basis for computer-aided atmospheric physics and meteorology. He is best known as the founder of modern chaos theory, a branch of mathematics focusing on the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions.

Ensemble forecasting

Ensemble forecasting is a method used in numerical weather prediction. Instead of making a single forecast of the most likely weather, a set of forecasts is produced. This set of forecasts aims to give an indication of the range of possible future states of the atmosphere. Ensemble forecasting is a form of Monte Carlo analysis. The multiple simulations are conducted to account for the two usual sources of uncertainty in forecast models: (1) the errors introduced by the use of imperfect initial conditions, amplified by the chaotic nature of the evolution equations of the atmosphere, which is often referred to as sensitive dependence on initial conditions; and (2) errors introduced because of imperfections in the model formulation, such as the approximate mathematical methods to solve the equations. Ideally, the verified future atmospheric state should fall within the predicted ensemble spread, and the amount of spread should be related to the uncertainty (error) of the forecast. In general, this approach can be used to make probabilistic forecasts of any dynamical system, and not just for weather prediction.

Data assimilation is a mathematical discipline that seeks to optimally combine theory with observations. There may be a number of different goals sought, for example—to determine the optimal state estimate of a system, to determine initial conditions for a numerical forecast model, to interpolate sparse observation data using knowledge of the system being observed, to train numerical model parameters based on observed data. Depending on the goal, different solution methods may be used. Data assimilation is distinguished from other forms of machine learning, image analysis, and statistical methods in that it utilizes a dynamical model of the system being analyzed.

Hydrometeorology is a branch of meteorology and hydrology that studies the transfer of water and energy between the land surface and the lower atmosphere. Hydrologists often utilize meteorologists and products produced by meteorologists As an example, a meteorologist would forecast 2-3 inches of rain is a specific area, and a hydrologist would then forecast what the specific impact of that rain would be on the terrain. UNESCO has several programmes and activities in place that deal with the study of natural hazards of hydrometeorological origin and the mitigation of their effects. Among these hazards are the results of natural processes or atmospheric, hydrological, or oceanographic phenomena such as floods, tropical cyclones, drought and desertification. Many countries have established an operational hydrometeorological capability to assist with forecasting, warning, and informing the public of these developing hazards.

Atmospheric model mathematical model based on the dynamical equations which govern atmospheric motions

An atmospheric model is a mathematical model constructed around the full set of primitive dynamical equations which govern atmospheric motions. It can supplement these equations with parameterizations for turbulent diffusion, radiation, moist processes, heat exchange, soil, vegetation, surface water, the kinematic effects of terrain, and convection. Most atmospheric models are numerical, i.e. they discretize equations of motion. They can predict microscale phenomena such as tornadoes and boundary layer eddies, sub-microscale turbulent flow over buildings, as well as synoptic and global flows. The horizontal domain of a model is either global, covering the entire Earth, or regional (limited-area), covering only part of the Earth. The different types of models run are thermotropic, barotropic, hydrostatic, and nonhydrostatic. Some of the model types make assumptions about the atmosphere which lengthens the time steps used and increases computational speed.

The National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) is located at the University of California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It is a national support and resource center for planning, real-time assessment, emergency response, and detailed studies of incidents involving a wide variety of hazards, including nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological, and natural emissions.

Quantitative precipitation forecast

The quantitative precipitation forecast is the expected amount of melted precipitation accumulated over a specified time period over a specified area. A QPF will be created when precipitation amounts reaching a minimum threshold are expected during the forecast's valid period. Valid periods of precipitation forecasts are normally synoptic hours such as 0000, 0600, 1200 and 1800 GMT. Terrain is considered in QPFs by use of topography or based upon climatological precipitation patterns from observations with fine detail. Starting in the mid-to-late 1990s, QPFs were used within hydrologic forecast models to simulate impact to rivers throughout the United States. Forecast models show significant sensitivity to humidity levels within the planetary boundary layer, or in the lowest levels of the atmosphere, which decreases with height. QPF can be generated on a quantitative, forecasting amounts, or a qualitative, forecasting the probability of a specific amount, basis. Radar imagery forecasting techniques show higher skill than model forecasts within 6 to 7 hours of the time of the radar image. The forecasts can be verified through use of rain gauge measurements, weather radar estimates, or a combination of both. Various skill scores can be determined to measure the value of the rainfall forecast.

The Unified Model is a Numerical Weather Prediction and climate modeling software suite originally developed by the United Kingdom Met Office, and now both used and further developed by many weather-forecasting agencies around the world. The Unified Model gets its name because a single model is used across a range of both timescales and spatial scales. The models are grid-point based, rather than wave based, and are run on a variety of supercomputers around the world. The Unified Model atmosphere can be coupled to a number of ocean models. At the Met Office it is used for the main suite of Global Model, North Atlantic and Europe model (NAE) and a high-resolution UK model (UKV), in addition to a variety of Crisis Area Models and other models that can be run on demand. Similar Unified Model suites with global and regional domains are used by many other national or military weather agencies around the world for operational forecasting.

Ocean Prediction Center

The Ocean Prediction Center (OPC), established in 1995, is one of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction's (NCEP's) original six service centers. Until 2003, the name of the organization was the Marine Prediction Center. Its origins are traced back to the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. The OPC issues forecasts up to five days in advance for ocean areas north of 31° north latitude and west of 35° west longitude in the Atlantic, and across the northeast Pacific north of 30° north latitude and east of 160° east longitude. Until recently, the OPC provided forecast points for tropical cyclones north of 20° north latitude and east of the 60° west longitude to the National Hurricane Center. OPC is composed of two branches: the Ocean Forecast Branch and the Ocean Applications Branch.

History of numerical weather prediction

The history of numerical weather prediction considers how current weather conditions as input into mathematical models of the atmosphere and oceans to predict the weather and future sea state has changed over the years. Though first attempted manually in the 1920s, it was not until the advent of the computer and computer simulation that computation time was reduced to less than the forecast period itself. ENIAC was used to create the first forecasts via computer in 1950, and over the years more powerful computers have been used to increase the size of initial datasets as well as include more complicated versions of the equations of motion. The development of global forecasting models led to the first climate models. The development of limited area (regional) models facilitated advances in forecasting the tracks of tropical cyclone as well as air quality in the 1970s and 1980s.

A prognostic chart is a map displaying the likely weather forecast for a future time. Such charts generated by atmospheric models as output from numerical weather prediction and contain a variety of information such as temperature, wind, precipitation and weather fronts. They can also indicate derived atmospheric fields such as vorticity, stability indices, or frontogenesis. Forecast errors need to be taken into account and can be determined either via absolute error, or by considering persistence and absolute error combined.

Marine weather forecasting

Marine weather forecasting is the process by which mariners and meteorological organizations attempt to forecast future weather conditions over the Earth's oceans. Mariners have had rules of thumb regarding the navigation around tropical cyclones for many years, dividing a storm into halves and sailing through the normally weaker and more navigable half of their circulation. Marine weather forecasts by various weather organizations can be traced back to the sinking of the Royal Charter in 1859 and the RMS Titanic in 1912.


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Further reading

Meteorological agencies

These are academic or governmental meteorology organizations. Most provide at least a limited forecast for their area of interest on their website.