Tuesday, December 6, 2016

That Warning Was Stupid

For as long as I've been forecasting, I will often check my work after the fact. Not a daily ritual of checking highs and lows, but more of a QC of the general idea of my forecast. If I forecast widespread severe weather and it didn't even rain, then I probably missed the general idea. On the flip side, if I forecast a widespread 1" of snow and every county in my CWA, except one, sees around 1", then I would say I got the general idea right (even if that one county got 3-6"). The job isn't a perfect one and neither are any of my forecasts. But, I'd like to get the general idea down as much as possible.

I know missing a forecast isn't the end of the world, but when you blow a forecast to the point that most of the general public realizes it, that can be a tough pill to swallow. Perhaps I worry about this too much, but part of me feels like I let down the people I serve. People count on us as Meteorologists to help them understand, plan on, and predict the weather. I think most have a good understanding that we aren't perfect, but still...

Recently I had what appears to be one of my bigger misses of late. An impactful snow that I had been forecasting for days basically fell apart before my eyes. Some areas still had impacts, but it wasn't nearly to the scale I expected. And, one of the areas that was supposed to get hit and didn't was our biggest population center. No forecast of mine has ever been perfect, but this one definitely missed the cut. One caller to our office referenced my Winter Storm Warning as being stupid. I don't take those comments to heart, but again, people notice missed forecasts. So, what do you do with those blown forecasts?

Well, there are a lot of ways to handle such a forecast and my mind was all over the place. Am I a good forecaster? Have I forgotten the science? Was I wish-casting? Will my neighbors drag me out onto the NOT-snow-covered street? Ok, so maybe I wasn't worried about that last one there. The point is, I wrestled through many things about myself as a Meteorologist.

But, at the end of the day, I was reminded of several things that I think could apply to others who may find themselves in a similar busted forecast boat. First off, I'm not the first forecaster to blow a forecast, even though it felt that way, and neither are you! Although, I suppose somewhere back in the beginning of forecasting weather, someone actually did make the first missed forecast. I'm sure that was good times...

I can't help but wondering if a blown forecast here or there is actually a good thing. Some people just seem to exude humility, but for the rest of us, it seems that it has to be learned...and learned through experience. Missed forecasts are humbling. I once heard a guy give a speech on humility. He mentioned 4 marks of a humble person:

1. Being Self Aware
2. Being Teachable
3. Concern for Others
4. Gratitude

Putting these into practice for a missed forecast might look something like this:

1. Be aware of and honest about your weaknesses as a forecaster and work on improving in those areas. Or, if the blown forecast was made in an area you are strong in, be honest about what was missed. The key is to not dwell on these weaknesses or misses to the point of putting yourself down. Me wallowing around in thoughts of whether I am a good forecaster or not doesn't do anyone any good. It's good to know my weaknesses, weaknesses of models, and simply the parts of weather that are very difficult to forecast at times. Know them, be aware of them, but don't wallow in them...

2. Pretty much self-explanatory. Missed forecasts can serve as a teaching opportunity...and not just for yourself. I've looked back and can see at least part of where I missed the boat on this recent flop. Instead of swimming in self-doubt, though, I can use this as an opportunity to improve as a forecaster, and perhaps it can even be used to teach another down the road ('oh man, when the models show that, be wary of this...').

3. For Meteorologists, I think this could be seen as caring enough about the people we serve to take our mistakes and learn from them. The speaker stressed that it is important to think about how things impact others...and not just ourselves. It's easy to think about how bad a missed forecast makes me look or feel, but at the end of the day, how did it impact those I serve? I can never serve them perfectly, but I can sure do what I can to best serve them going forward!

4. This one is tougher to nail down, but I am grateful that I'm not alone in missing forecasts. I'm grateful for technology/research that, I imagine, helps us to miss less forecasts than in generations past. Dare I say, I'm grateful for the opportunity to be humbled...in that it will hopefully make me a better forecaster at the end of the day.

We will never be perfect and striving for perfection will leave you frustrated time and time again. But, we can always strive to do/be our best. In the process of shooting for our best, we will make mistakes. But, perhaps those mistakes are really just a part of the process of becoming a better Meteorologist.


  1. Good word ..."don't wallow in them". You have such a great way of using the gifts you've been given in weather-related subjects and helping all of us in life, Roger--whether we're a meteorologist of not. That's good life-forecasting! Thanks.

    1. Life-forecasting...I like that! Yeah, wallowing in stuff just isn't helpful. Find the issue and work on it.