The science and technology behind weather prediction

by Precious Cyprain
4 mins read
Technology behind weather prediction

Weather prediction is the ability to forecast the weather conditions for a particular location and time by the application of science and technology. It also involves the use of statistical techniques to predict the effect atmospheric conditions such as snow, rain and flood have on the surface of the earth. 

The similarities between the method of weather prediction used thousands of years ago by the early men and that utilized in this modern age is the use of observations from previous patterns and predicting weather changes based on these observations. Only now, this method is backed up by applying physics, equations and different technologies used for measuring temperature, humidity, wind and pressure. In contrast, the primaeval method depended on a perceptive observer and his gathered experience.  

Quantitative data is collected on the present state of the land, atmosphere and ocean, and the weather is forecasted using meteorology to predict the changes the atmosphere will make at a certain place and time. Computer-based models such as knowledge of model biases, knowledge of model performance, teleconnections and pattern recognition skills, are employed in weather forecasting. 

Despite the sophisticated modern process of weather forecasting, there are still cases of wrong predictions which can be attributed to the error in measuring the initial conditions, the disorderly nature of the atmosphere, the need for a large computational power to solve equations for predicting the behaviour of the atmosphere, inability to fully understand the atmosphere, etc. The accuracy of a weather forecast also decreases with an increase between the present time and the time for which the weather is forecasted.  

History and advancements of Weather forecasting  

In the 19th century, the major technique used was synoptic meteorology whereby a general observation of the weather in a broad area is done by plotting a map of the observations on the area at a specific time. This synoptic weather map is also widely used today in weather stations and television weather reports. Mathematical calculations to determine the changes in the atmosphere started around the mid-20s with the aid of digital computers. This method aids the reproducibility of results as anyone using the same initial conditions would obtain the same result. 

Scientists began to search for ways to secure better accuracy in their observations. In the 1960s, advances were made in the use of Earth-orbiting satellites to accumulate data from the atmosphere. Around the late 1980s, weather prediction was aided by high-speed computers which worked by determining numerical models. A Network of Next-generation Doppler Weather Radars placed in the United States in the early 1990s was used to predict extreme weather conditions giving additional lead time before they occur.  

By the late 20th and early 21st century, more sophisticated forecasts were achieved due to the integration of a greater computer processing power which ran multiple models thereby limiting the range of errors in a forecast.  

Various tools and technologies used for weather prediction

  1. Satellite data: Weather satellites are put in space to observe the Earth and gather data for the meteorologist to analyze. Deep space satellites can also be used to monitor the space weather and the sun for solar storms.  
  2. Supercomputers: Supercomputers collect, process and analyse tons of data obtained from weather satellites, buoys, water balloons, radiosondes, etc. This data is fed into computerized numerical forecast models which helps in forecasting by the use of equations and previous and recent data.  
  3. Radiosondes: Radiosondes are attached to weather balloons and launched to the upper stratosphere to collect upper-air data such as the wind speed, wind direction, air pressure, humidity and temperature, and send it back every second for analysis. They are usually launched more frequently during extreme weather conditions to gather data on the event. 
  4. Doppler radar: This is mostly used in observing extreme storms. It detects all kinds of precipitations in the storm such as airborne tornado debris, thunderstorm clouds rotation, wind direction and wind strength. 
  5. Automated surface observing systems (ASOS): These systems continuously monitor the weather activities on the Earth’s surface. They observe and report data about precipitations, temperature, surface visibility and other sky conditions. This aids in effective weather forecasting. 
  6. Advanced weather information processing system: This processing system combines data from the different data-collecting tools into a graphical interface where it can be analyzed for forecasting by the weather forecasters.

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