Public Release: 

Better living through improved weather forecasting

American Association for the Advancement of Science

On the eve of the American Meteorological Society's centennial anniversary, Richard Alley and colleagues highlight the advances in our weather and environmental forecasting ability and the many societal benefits they provide. According to Alley et al., these benefits greatly outweigh the costs, and continued investment in weather forecasting will ensure that these important improvements to human wellbeing continue, they say. The ability to predict the weather, a feat perhaps taken for granted by some, has dramatically improved in recent decades, fueled by technological advancements in sophisticated remote sensing technologies and by the development of powerful computational models capable of simulating an entire planet's atmosphere hundreds of times over in a relative instant. According to Alley et al., because of these improvements, a 5-day forecast today is as accurate as a 1-day forecast was in 1980, and useful weather predictions can now be reliably made up to 10 days into the future. Furthermore, the identification of hazardous and extreme weather events, like hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and flash floods, is now routinely made far enough in advance to allow ample time for emergency preparations or evacuations. However, in some parts of the developing world, a lack of access to forecasting tools has left many countries particularly vulnerable to weather disasters. These issues can be addressed through targeted investments or data sharing, which could save many thousands of lives each year. However, according to the authors, national efforts to force meteorological services to raise revenue by placing data behind paywalls greatly impair these goals.

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