Weather apps are often the best forecasters, but we still need the human touch | KNKX

Weather apps are often the best forecasters, but we still need the human touch

Feb 14, 2020

The rain just keeps coming. Our reservoirs are above normal now, and it looks like there’s more rain on its way all weekend long. But can you trust that forecast? KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says some weather apps are often the most acurate source — and anyone can check their reliability.

Mass uses the Weather Channel app on his smart phone, which is among the most popular ones. Others include AccuWeather and Dark Sky Weather.  

“It turns out, some of these weather apps are extremely good,” Mass said. “In fact, some of them even give you a better forecast than the National Weather Service in general.”

The website forecastadvisor.com rates the accuracy of weather apps over extended periods of time, he added. Still, the factory weather apps built into our iPhones, Android and other devices often offer the best forecast by city.

Mass says these automated apps can be better than human forecasters because the companies that operate them, such as IBM, use sophisticated systems.

“They take multiple weather models from all over the world and they combine them statistically in an optimal way to produce the best forecast,” Mass said.

The method is called statistical post processing.

“This actually produces an extraordinarily skillful forecast, in particular points around the nation and the world,” he said.

To hear more — including why the human element is still necessary for effectively communicating forecasts, especially in emergencies — listen to the full conversation above.    

CLIFF'S FORECAST

Friday: Cloudy with little rain in the lowlands. Temperatures in the upper 40s.

Saturday: “A fairly potent weather system comes in,” Mass said. Mostly rainy in lowlands, except in Port Townsend, Port Angeles and Sequim — areas in the rain shadow in the Olympics.

Sunday: Clouds early, then another rain system moves in.

Mountain snow: Mass says the mountains will get anywhere from half an inch to a foot of snow over the weekend, at an elevation of 3,000 feet.

Looking ahead: Next week, it’s the dry weather everyone’s been waiting for, starting Monday and continuing through Thursday or Friday.

“It’s going to be a very nice week coming up, with very little chance of precipitation in the lowlands,” Mass said.

Weather with Cliff Mass airs at 9:02 a.m. Friday, right after BirdNote, and twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KNKX environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, and a popular weather blogger. You can also subscribe to podcasts of Weather with Cliff Mass shows, via iTunes or Google Play.