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ADDING MEANINGFUL INFORMATION TO A FORECAST

METEOROLOGIST JEFF HABY

One of the attributes that separates broadcast meteorologists from other meteorologists is the ability to describe complex meteorological phenomena to the general public in a way that is understandable, entertaining and descriptive. While NWS and MOS forecasts generally have the same format, broadcasters are often times more creative with their language and relate the weather to common everyday chores such as dressing for the weather and yard work. Meteorologists can control how people behave and can better their lives.

It is important not only to give highs, lows and precipitation chances but to also describe the character of the weather. Some examples include cloud cover changes throughout the day, the duration and intensity of predicted rainfall, temperature fluctuations during the day, and obstructions to vision. This is particularly important when rapid weather changes occur. It would not make much sense to say the high is going to be 70 F tomorrow if a cold front moves in during the afternoon, dropping temperatures into the 30's. The high might actually be 70 around noon, but the general character of the weather will be rapidly falling temperatures. The public needs to know why the temperature is going to change and why it is the temperature that it is now.

Another example is the generic phrase, "There is a 40 percent chance of precipitation tomorrow". Much more substance can be added. These questions also need to be addressed: When will the rain begin and end? What will be the rainfall intensity? What will the precipitation type be? How will the precipitation change the temperature? and How much total rainfall is expected?

There are several ways to describe the chance for rainfall. One way is to express the chance as a percentage. Generally, the percentage is given in 10 percent increments beginning with 20%(rain not likely) and ranging to 100%(precipitation already falling). As mentioned above, if percentages are used, the character of the precipitation should also be given.

Another method of describing precipitation likelihood is to express it with descriptive words such as isolated, widely scattered, scattered, or numerous. The spacing of storms determines what category is used. Again, the character of the weather should be added to these descriptions. Examples include "scattered cauliflower garden variety thunderstorms", "a line of late afternoon to early evening strong to severe thunderstorms with strong winds and hail", and "numerous light showers throughout the day."

Still another way to describe precipitation chances is through symbols. This is often used on the extended forecast graphic. Examples include; a rain graphic, a rain graphic with a partial sun, a lightning bolt with rain symbol, and a cloud with a few raindrops. The problem most encountered with this method is that rain RARELY lasts all day. A symbol of only rain leads the viewers to think it will rain all day. Meaningful information such as when the rain is expected to begin and end is very important. This "mistake" can also occur on the next day forecast. Viewers and clients need to know when the rain will begin and end, especially if the rain coincides with the morning commute or rush hour. It is important to explain weather symbols with descriptive and meaningful weather information.

The weather may be the most critical elements that determines how we dress others and ourselves. Many broadcasters incorporate information on how to dress within the forecast. Some examples include "it will feel chilly in the morning so you may need a jacket", "you may want to take your umbrella with you today as precipitation chances will be increasing throughout the day" and "you will need to undig the winter wardrobe as an unusually late and strong cold front moves through the state." As a meteorologist, you are a fashion designer because you help dress your clients.

Traveling conditions are another area broadcast meteorologists focus attention. When weather conditions deteriorate, the public is curious to how drive times and flight times will be delayed. These delays are most often caused by precipitation, especially wintry precipitation and dense fog. Much of operational and broadcast meteorology deals in some way with travel weather.

Another challenge broadcast meteorologists have is giving unique forecasts when the weather is the same day after day after day. This is especially true in places like the Southern U.S. during the summer, especially when high pressure persists for several days or weeks. In these cases, even the smallest changes in the weather need to be exaggerated. Examples of exaggerations include, "there may be a few more clouds this afternoon than the last few days", "Today looks to be our warmest day of the week", and "the extended forecast may bring us some weather changes." In these weather situations of unchanging weather, the entertaining personality of the broadcaster becomes most important. It is severe weather situations and inclement weather when the broadcaster must "put on a more serious face".

It is special added small touches that separate average broadcast meteorologists from the most popular broadcasters. Many of these small touches relate to meaningful information added to a forecast and the overall public relations the broadcaster has with the community. Anyone can write and deliver a forecast, but only a select few can write the forecast with "an entertaining flare" and have correct forecasts most of the time.

The following is a sample list of information that can be added to a weathercast or client forecast to make it more interesting and meaningful:

1. Moon data and sunrise/ sunset data
2. Weather trivia or weather facts
3. Impact of weather on community sports and outside events
4. Severe weather preparation
5. Impact of weather on an international event
6. Broadcasters personal experience with a weather event (weather story)
7. Preparing the car for weather (antifreeze, oil, coolant, heater, etc)
8. Lake, river, beach weather
9. Sunburn information
10. Weather impact on animals


As a meteorologist, you will often be labeled as the science expert. Being able to answer science questions that do not directly pertain to meteorology will make one a more well-rounded scientist and more looked to as a science authority. Courses which will add to your science knowledge include: Natural Hazards, Oceanography, Astronomy, Geology, and so forth. Some example questions that a meteorologist may have to take include:

1. What is that strange light in the sky?
2. What is a comet?
3. Is that light in the sky a star or a planet?
4. What are a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse?
5. What is the aurora and how does it occur?
6. Why is the rain causing those mudslides?
7. What causes the waves in the ocean?
8. Where do I look to see Venus in the sky?
9. What causes the phases of the moon?
10. Why does only one side of the moon face the earth?
11. Does the moon effect the earth's weather?
12. What causes the tides?
13. Do sun spots change the weather?
14. Why are there more bugs this year than last year?
15. Can the weather cause an earthquake?