What is Meteorology Really All About?

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Very good video posted on YouTube last year by Millersville University students discussing common misconceptions involving the general public and meteorology. I watched this around the time it came out and I couldn’t agree more.

1. Professional meteorologists are actually RIGHT (or as we may better define it, have a relatively high degree of precision) when it comes to forecasting most of the time. Big examples would be recent severe weather outbreaks or Hurricane Sandy, but even your run-of-the-mill forecast is pretty on the money most of the time. It’s just that humans being who they are, tend to only pay attention to the missed events and accumulate those in their minds. But meteorology has improved dramatically in the past 50 yrs as seen in reduced death tolls by severe weather events and earlier warnings.

2. Meteorology uses computer models, but in my own experience forecasting and watching the evolution of other people’s forecasting, I can say the models really are a tool and not the brain behind the operation. I like to refer to forecasting as a cybernetic process…the computer half does the complex calculations and resultant modeling, the human does the THINKING (does this model solution make sense, seem realistic, what is it telling me in depth vs. the big picture, is it capturing subtle features well enough, etc). Very important.

3. Oh and the math, can’t forget the math. The hydrostatic equation, hypsometric equation, height tendency equation, thermal wind equation…I experienced lots of those and I never even took atmospheric dynamics before I switched to geography. I’m alright at math on paper (made it through Calculus III, but washed out of differential equations), but in practice, I’m a bit slow at it and stumble easily, hence why I had to retake math classes a lot. I spent a lot of money before I decided to jump ship and do something I enjoyed better and was less painful on my brain. I’m good at qualitative meteorology, but don’t ask me to go through detailed mathematics discussions about it.

Overall, with the impact meteorological hazards can have on our lives, I wish people would show more respect for the meteorologist. The degree is rough, the work is hard (but fruitful), but the results are obviously positive. If anything, just be glad your meteorologist doesn’t talk like this on TV (actually, maybe they should and it would better show they know what they are talking about!):

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