Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Target of Opportunity Trap

A buzz word/phrase in the NWS right now is "targets of opportunity". The idea is to find those areas of the forecast that need the most attention and where value can be added by the forecaster. Any part of the forecast not considered a target of opportunity can probably be left to the models to handle.

That last sentence can be a bit worrisome, though, because it seems to be the "beginning of the end" of the human element of forecasting as we know it. Whether it is or isn't, I don't know. What I do know is that the "end" has not arrived. My concern is that forecasters will let that last sentence be all they hear and start acting like the end has already come.

As Meteorologists, the support we provide to our clients, partners, and/or the public starts with a solid forecast...and a solid forecast starts with a sound, scientific approach. The models are certainly improving on the sound, scientific approach aspect, but they aren't perfect and there are times when the forecaster CAN add value. The key, in my opinion, is learning when to let the models do their thing and when to deviate. I believe finding this balance is in the best interest of those we serve.

While I support the target of opportunity concept, my concern, as mentioned earlier, is that it will have a negative impact on some forecasters. "If models are doing so well, why even bother anymore?" some might say. The problem here is that frame of mind can lead to missed opportunities to add value. Missing those opportunities may lead to a less-than-ideal forecast which could lead to a less-than-ideal service. Being a service industry means keeping the needs of those we serve at the forefront of what we do. Living in fear of losing our jobs to models, or assuming models are always best, can ultimately lead to a degraded service. The opportunity to add value may be lower than it was 5-10 years ago, but it isn't non-existent. Be intentional about finding those opportunities.

I believe keeping sharp on the science is one way to aid in finding those opportunities to add value. This can also help us as forecasters to know how much to deviate from the models and how to best message these impactful, or potentially impactful, periods/events.

One such target of opportunity I have often seen is with convection. Sometimes the models are spot-on, especially with all the recent CAM (Convective Allowing Models) development, but other times they are horribly wrong. When they are wrong, it is important to know why. Knowing why can help guide the forecast into later periods. Being intentional to keep up with the science can help answer the question 'why' and can provide guidance on the forecast. This, in turn, can lead to the best possible forecast and service.

At other times, a target of opportunity may simply be figuring out which model(s) handle certain impactful patterns/events better than others and leaning the forecast that direction. The various blends out there work great in many situations, but at other times, certain members of those blends out-perform the blend, itself. Learn when to deviate from the blends (research and model verification can help with this). 

I won't go into all the different targets of opportunity, but I strongly encourage anyone out there who is struggling with this concept to not let it become a motivation killer. Be intentional about finding that balance between model value and human value. Keep sharp on the science. Keep up with / research model performance/verification. With this approach, I believe we have the opportunity to provide the best service possible to those counting on us.

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