As the newest member of the Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society, we looked forward to attending the 19th Annual Winter Weather Forecast Conference. There was a big crowd – more than 350 – a record, we hear.
One big draw was a presentation on “The Lack of Evidence for Human-Caused Climate Change,” by meteorologist Chuck Wiese, and Univ. of Chicago physicist, Gordon Fulks. Their talk was a bit compressed given all the information they had to present, so a full meeting on Climate Change is planned for the end of this month: Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011 from 7-9 pm, at OMSI.
All forecasts begin with a review of past weather. Mark Nelsen, a tv weather guy, reviewed the weather of 2010-2011. In case you have forgotten, as we did, the summary looked like this: fun (read: snow) at the beginning and end (read much rain and cold) of the winter, pretty vanilla (mild, uneventful) in the middle.
Then came the forecasts – five of them! Pete Parsons, weatherman for Oregon Dept of Forestry expects to see a winter much like the one in 2008: mostly mild with cold spells, but turning stormy with a pretty good chance of snow, in December and January. His colleague, former tv weatherman and now also with the ODF, Jim Little, forecast (with tongue-in-cheek) a St. Valentine’s Day snow.
Other forecasters were Dave Elson, who works for the National Weather Service, Kyle Dittmer, who tracks weather for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, and George Taylor, former State Climatologist, now in private practice as Applied Climate Services. All had similar outlooks: cooler and wetter, with a late winter cold and snow blast.
Each forecaster’s employer has different needs. ODF’s most critical needs are for summer weather forecasts. The department can save significant amounts of money if they sign contracts with firefighters at the last possible date before summer fire season starts.
Urban forecasters are more interested in weather effects on commuter traffic and infrastructure damage due to flooding. Agricultural forecasting is important to farmers’ decisions about when to plant and harvest.
The two people from the military, one Air Force, one Army, both combat veterans from the Iraq wars, had very different requirements. Air Force Lt. Col. Thyra Bishop said the USAF needed to know what kind of cloud cover bombers and fighters would be dealing with, now plus turbulence and outright storms.
The Army, on the other hand, needs to have accurate on-the-ground weather reports, for obvious reasons. The Navy, which was absent from this discussion, undoubtedly needs to know ocean conditions – ocean swells, tropical storms, etc.
There are two ways to look at weather before coming up with a guess about the future. First, the meteorologist can look at the past and pick out patterns that seem to map onto current and near-past conditions – this is called looking for analog years.
Another way is to devise computer programs and global patterns, like the Pacific Decadel Oscillation or the Southern Oscillation Index, to do the same thing only with more data. There is a constant search for more accurate and predictive data.