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Long-range weather forecast accuracy can be checkedLong-range weather forecast accuracy can be checked

Just because someone says it will be a cold winter doesn't make it so!

Tom Bechman 1

October 19, 2016

3 Min Read

The forecast is out there. In fact, you may have read it on this website under National News a couple of weeks back. At least one private weather forecasting service had called for a cold, snowy winter in the Midwest before the first frost hit the pumpkin. How much credibility can you put in those forecasts?

Ken Scheeringa, associate Indiana state climatologist, says forecasters don’t put out a winter forecast early because they want more indications before they put their reputation on the line.

Scheeringa suggests being careful when reading articles about long-range forecasts. Some statements may be true, but they may not mean what you first assume.


For example, here’s a statement from a private forecast already released for this winter: "Temperatures will plummet as the season goes on, averaging 6 to 9 degrees lower overall than last winter."

That could turn out to be correct, but Scheeringa says you need to keep it in perspective. “It sounds dramatic until you consider that last winter in the Midwest was about 4 to 8 degrees warmer than normal,” he notes. “The stronger departures from normal went northward. So 6 to 9 degrees lower than last year would be near-normal for the Midwest.”

Also, some statements that sound dramatic may simply be stating a natural fact, he notes. Consider the statement about temperatures plummeting deeper into winter again. “Climatologically speaking, temperatures usually ‘plummet’ as the winter season goes on,” he observes.

Then Scheeringa quips, “Want to bet temperatures will rebound next spring?”

Check forecasts

The Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also makes three-month long-range forecasts, Scheeringa says. There is a way to determine, after the fact, how close the forecast came to being correct. Here are five easy steps you can follow to determine if winter 2015-16 turned out as CPC forecasters predicted. Climatologists refer to winter as Dec. 1 through Feb. 28/29.

1. Visit NOAA’s website. Start at cpc.ncep.noaa.gov.

2. Make a selection. When the page appears, click "Three Month Outlook" above the maps on the page.

3. Look for the next link. Click on "Verifications."

4. Zero in on a season and year. Select a season and year from the drop-down box. To get information on the original forecast for the winter of 2015-16 and maps of how it actually turned out, select "Dec-Jan-Feb" and "2016." Then hit submit.

5. Find the four maps and make comparisons. You will find a temperature forecast map above a temperature verification map, Scheeringa says. Then find the precipitation forecast map with the precipitation verification map under it. The top map is what was supposed to happen. The bottom map shows what actually happened. Draw your own conclusions.

For example, a big chunk of the country was supposed to experience normal or below-normal temperatures according to the three-month forecast a year ago. As it turned out, nearly the entire country was warmer than normal, as Scheeringa noted earlier.

Precipitation was supposed to be below normal over most of Indiana and neutral in the southern tip. Instead, precipitation for the 2015-16 winter season was above normal across almost the entire state. Snowfall totals weren’t impressive due to warmer-than-normal temperatures.

Here are those maps:

Long-range weather forecast accuracy can be checked
Long-range weather forecast accuracy can be checked
Long-range weather forecast accuracy can be checked
Long-range weather forecast accuracy can be checked

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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