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The progression of meteorology

by RANDY MANN
| June 17, 2024 1:05 AM

The advancement of meteorology has taken huge strides, especially in recent years. Meteorology is the study of the atmosphere and its phenomena, plus its interaction with the earth’s surface oceans and life in general. The term itself goes back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He wrote a book about 340 B.C. on natural philosophy entitled “Meteorologica.” It was the sum of weather and climate at that time.

Meteorology became a genuine natural science toward the end of the 16th century (1583) when a crude thermometer was invented by Galileo. It wasn’t perfected, however, until 1714 by Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit. In 1643, the barometer was created to measure air pressure. In the late 1700s, the hygrometer, an instrument to measure the air’s water vapor content, was also invented.

The science of meteorology progressed as better instruments were developed. It became more widely recognized by the 1950s as high-speed computers were created to help solve equations that described the atmosphere’s behavior. Over the last several decades, computer models have become so sophisticated that short-term and even long-term forecasts have become more accurate.

The science of meteorology has become very important in today’s world. Meteorologists are used to forecast conditions for airlines as the prediction of winds, increasing thunderstorm activity and other weather phenomena help pilots to navigate the skies more safely. With an extensive roadway system, people need to know upcoming conditions for travel, and military and cruise ships need to know future weather conditions for safer navigation on the water. Private meteorological services are also used to forecast farming conditions and the selling of data to media outlets, such as television weather stations.

When I began my meteorological career as an intern at a local television station back in 1977, much of our weather information prior to the implementation of the internet was provided by teletype for observations and forecasts, and a specific type of fax machine that sent us national radar and other forecast maps. The information at the time was basic, but it was used for the on-air weather forecasts.

However, in the mid-1980s, the development of computer graphic systems helped meteorologists get information more efficiently and present a better on-air product. Once the internet became more widespread, computer graphic systems became more sophisticated. Television weathercasts have evolved with detailed and moving graphics and up-to-the-minute radar for better forecasts. In fact, much of the weather forecast that is seen during the weathercasts is prepared and updated in advance by these computer graphic systems. It’s amazing how technology for meteorology has progressed during my career. Back in the late 1970s, the on-air products were prepared with water-colored pens and single plexiglass maps.

The art of weather forecasting is taking another leap forward thanks to the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI). This new era of forecasting is using data rather than equations to generate more powerful weather forecasts. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, there is new weather forecasting research that is using AI to help with extreme weather forecasting as much as six weeks in advance. Forecasting with the current system can take hours to analyze, in addition to large computer resources, as many computer forecast models are accessed to make the best weather prediction as possible. With the new advanced AI computers, models can run over 300 versions of a forecast, collect local, satellite and other critical data and create a forecast out to six weeks in a matter of minutes. They can also learn and adapt from using observed data to help predict future weather. A one-week forecast could be computed in less than a second with the help of AI.

 According to an article by climateforesight.eu, in late 2023, Google introduced its own weather-forecasting AI system. It’s called GraphCast, and this new AI model claims it can predict weather conditions more accurately up to 10 days in advance by using decades of historical data. Other AI systems are already being implemented in parts of the U.S. and Europe that can produce 24-hour forecasts more accurately and require less computing power.

The new AI systems may not mean that we’re going to see the end of traditional weather forecasting as they still rely on older tools that are used to make many of the outlooks. However, AI technology is increasing at a very high rate and it’s uncertain on far it will go in the years to come.

In terms of our local weather, last week was dry across the Inland Northwest, but the showers did return over the weekend. There is a chance of additional rainfall through Tuesday before warmer and drier conditions return later in the week. The rest of June still looks a little cooler than normal with occasional showers. This is certainly a different pattern than what we experienced back in late June of 2021 when temperatures as high as 107 degrees were reported.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.