Chances are, you’ve probably been excited by a sunny weekend forecast only to be let down by cloudy skies and rain when Saturday rolls around. It’s often said that the weather is unpredictable, but the evolution of technology has given rise to the most accurate weather predictions the world has ever seen.
So, what does the future of predicting weather look like? Well, it’s as much about technology as it is developing scientific theory. Could meteorologist’s finally get this weekend’s weather right? Read on and see.
Before diving into the ways in which technology will aid in weather forecasting, it is essential to understand why your local weatherman might make wrong predictions. Weather runs on a highly volatile system, where even the slightest tweak could cause drastic changes.
These kinds of easily manipulated, random systems fall into the scientific realm of Chaos Theory. The simplest way to understand this concept is with a pool table. No matter how many time you break the initial formation of the billiards, you would never achieve the same result twice.
Each impact from the q-ball would send the rest of the billiards rolling in a different direction based on the amount of force behind the stroke and the angle you used. Even when trying to replicate your previous break, you would find that the billiards end up in different positions.
These minute changes in strength and angle create entirely different outcomes. In a very similar way, tiny changes around the Earth can impact weather on the complete opposite side of the planet. As you can imagine, this makes accurately predicting the weather an incredibly complicated process.
How It’s Done
Today’s weather forecasts are produced via temperature, wind speed, and precipitation models. If you’ve ever viewed the Doppler Radar, then you’ve seen these exact models in use. Meteorologists use this combined information to predict what changes will take place in the short-term future.
Different patterns indicate rain, snow, clouds and more might affect an area within a ten-day period. To further refine their predictions, meteorologists analyze past and present weather data along with atmospheric conditions to make an educated guess on what will happen next.
Weather conditions analyzed locally often rely on weather balloons, which utilize a particular pack attached to their base that measures everything from wind speed and direction to air pressure in the layers of the troposphere. This is combined with satellite imaging to observe cloud patterns and rainfall.
All of this data is sent to a weather station’s computers, which run algorithms to determine what the local atmosphere looks like. The term locally is usually applied to a large area, such as the Northwestern hemisphere.
Meteorologists must then decide if the information is accurate enough to predict a ten-day forecast. If not, then they must use their training to make a new prediction. Either way, these tools have revealed somewhat of a pattern in the world’s weather.
Often times, the weather on today’s date might be similar to what it was a decade or century ago. However, this does not make it identical by any means. A snowstorm on the horizon might form in a similar pattern to one in the past, but that doesn’t mean the amount of snowfall will be the same this time around.
The more accurate the information coming from a meteorologist’s tools are, the more precise their prediction will be. A more seasoned meteorologist will also be able to discern repeating weather patterns, which help to make their predictions more accurate. The future of predicting weather is all about aiding them in making even faster, more accurate predictions.
Understanding the Long-Term
Scientists also rely on weather imaging but focus more on the way energy moves through the atmosphere over the course of decades. Their instruments measure things like the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface, what gasses are mixing in the atmosphere, and how oceans absorb heat.
These and other aspects are used to study the causes of long-term changes in atmospheric patterns. An excellent example is determining when hurricane season will hit the East Coast of America. Both scientists and meteorologists have been using these technologies for some time now, which is part of why new tech on the horizon for future weather forecasting is an exciting ordeal.
Weather patterns have shown an increase in the likelihood of extremes such as hurricanes and torrential downpours. This makes more accurate prediction of future weather essential in preparing areas for the worst.
The future of predicting weather will rely on new radar technology and improvements to the satellites already in use. When combined with efficient response times, thousands of lives could be spared from natural disasters.
Starting with Radar
Tornadoes and hurricanes can turn into catastrophic events with little warning, making radar the first line of defense. The ability to rapidly detect changes in the weather that lead to these extreme situations is essential, but today’s radar systems cannot provide feedback fast enough. The current warning notice is fourteen minutes.
Current systems work by sending out radio waves that reflect off of particles in the atmosphere such as rain, ice, and even dust. The strength of the returning waves and the time it takes them to travel back identify the location and intensity of the change in weather, while the frequency of the waves gives insight into the direction and speed of a storm.
What modern radar lacks is the ability to tell meteorologists the shape of the particles their radio waves are detecting, which is vital information for distinguishing rainfall from a dust storm. The technology aiming to change this gap in knowledge is called dual polarization.
This technology allows experts to view the horizontal width of particles, which could let the news to tell you whether this weekend’s storm will be rain or hail. Dual polarization also helps to distinguish airborne debris, allowing experts to closely track ongoing storms that have the potential to cause significant damage.
This debris is undetectable to the human eye, but the future of predicting weather will make it possible to detect these microscopic bits and allow individuals to get to safety long before the storm ever starts. The same technology can also be used to more accurately predict flooding from a hurricane or the actual amount of snowfall you may experience during a winter storm.
While dual polarization is a useful tool, it can only bring in information as fast as it puts radio waves out. Current radar models rely on a single dish that turns on a 360-degree angle. As high-tech as that may be, it can only send out one line of waves at a time starting with the lowest elevation to the highest found in a storm.
Phased-array systems send out multiple radio wave beams at a time, eliminating the need to tilt the dish in the first place. Computing all of the information from a storm at one time gives meteorologists a faster analysis of what weather is on its way. This also allows them to detect changes at a much faster rate.
While it may only be a matter of minutes, every second counts when preparing an area for the worst. Combined, these two radar technologies could change the national warning time from fourteen minutes beforehand to a full eighteen just for tornadoes.
Taking to the Skies
Even the best radar on the planet has its limitations, and no antenna or dish out there can transmit radio waves through mountains out far enough into the ocean to detect far-off changes that may be headed your way.
It’s up to satellite imaging to give meteorologists and scientists the information they need on hurricanes forming at sea or tornadoes forming on a mountainside. Today’s experts rely on geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites.
Geostationary models stay fixed in one location to transmit a near-constant view of the Earth’s surface. Sending images every fifteen minutes, they help experts view growing storms and changes in their size.
Polar-orbiting models travel from the North Pole to the South Pole at a lower altitude, providing closer looks for more detailed observations. They can measure temperature and humidity levels at different layers in the atmosphere, sending continuous feedback as they make their twelve-hour loop around the globe.
To make these observations faster for time-sensitive safety information, newer models will be launched into the atmosphere with updated instruments and hardware. Advanced microwave and infrared sensors will offer 3D images of storms as they happen, relaying vital information for storm tracking.
The future of predicting weather relies on advancing the technology already in place so that faster, more accurate predictions can be made. Whether it’s saving lives from a natural disaster or giving you a realistic outlook for the weekend, improved radar, and satellite imaging will allow experts to have a greater insight into what mother nature will bring next.